The Agency for Civil Service Development under the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan at the video conference, which took place late in February, discussed working hours and overall productivity of public officials’ work. Uzbek Review asked the experts how to improve working quality of civil servants.
The legislation of Uzbekistan states that normal working time for an employee cannot exceed forty hours a week (Art. 115 of the Labor Code of the Republic of Uzbekistan). The duration of overtime should not exceed four hours for each employee within two days and one hundred and twenty hours a year (Art. 125 of the Labor Code of the Republic of Uzbekistan).
Are these standards respected in the civil service? In an interview with the Alter Ego project in May 2019, Tashkent Khokim (Mayor) Jakhongir Artykhodjaev told that he worked from 8 a.m. until midnight almost seven days a week. The Ministry of Justice also acknowledged that “there is a working time problem in Uzbekistan.” Since February, the Ministry has introduced a new practice ― automatic disconnection of office computers from the power supply. Representatives of the department informed that “as a result of the measures taken, employees are forced to use their working hours rationally and plan their working process in an optimal way.”
Akram Mukhamatkulov, the Head of the PR center of the Information and Communications Agency, believes that streamlining of the working regime within public institutions was connected with an incredibly tough schedule: “A working day of at least 12-14 hours could not positively affect civil servants’ health and well-being of their families. Therefore, such expressions as “They work until midnight” or “He/she does not see how children grow up” became common”.
Saidnumon Mansurov, the Head of the representative office of Foreign Labor Migration Agency under the Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations of the Republic of Uzbekistan in the Russian Federation, notes that if employees work in the same field for days and nights, they lose their vigilance and correctness in solving the tasks set. They are not involved in the processes, begin to work monotonously and stop in their own personal development. The expert sees a direct dependence of productivity on the normalized length of the working hours per day and per week.
Akram Mukhamatkulov also believes that a limited working time encourages people to plan their schedule most efficiently and productively. He informs that paper document circulation among different departments still prevails at the moment. Preparation, coordination and exchange of letters between ministries and departments take most of the day. Automation of this process will facilitate and accelerate civil servants’ work greatly. It is also necessary to optimize the number and duration of working conferences. The Presidential Decree of December 9, 2019 “On measures for further reduction of bureaucratic barriers and introduction of modern management principles in the activities of public bodies and institutions” will help optimize this process.
Yulia Yakovleva, director and manager of Person Hunters, a group of consulting companies, agrees that labor norming is necessary. In her opinion, the more people work, the less is their effectiveness and the more risks of professional burnout are involved. She draws attention to the fact that the following picture can often be observed in ministries and departments: employees are in a hurry carrying out some short-term “urgent” tasks. Thus, they are not in a position to plan their working day competently. In her opinion, the work in public institutions is rather peculiar and chaotic: there are no clearly defined goals; therefore, it is difficult to measure the real results of work that would be enshrined in KPI (key performance indicators) of responsible managers and correctly distributed among employees.
How to evaluate working efficiency of public institutions
When it comes to assessing business performance, it will not be difficult to establish quantitative, monetary and percentage indicators. But how can one objectively evaluate the level of productivity of a public institution and its employees?
Saidnumon Mansurov believes that the performance of civil servants can be assessed using the following characteristics:
- Opinion of the voters and the level of economic development of the country: “Recently, parliamentary elections have been held, so now it is important to meet the people’s expectations and show qualitative changes in the economy of our society before the next election”;
- Quality and targeting of regulatory documents and acts, because a large number of legal acts cannot always be considered as the effective work of government bodies: “These days we can see an increased number of Presidential Decrees and Cabinet of Ministers Resolutions. However, their effectiveness is in question and it is up to people to judge whether they are useful or not. To do this, we need to conduct a research involving general population”.
Based on his experience in the public service, Akram Mukhamatkulov states that qualitative and statistical annual growth indicators can assess the performance of certain ministries and departments. Among the successful structures in this regard, he mentions Information and Communications Agency, Ministry of Investment and Foreign Trade, Uzbektourism. “All departments have roadmaps with objectives, implementation plan, deadlines, etc. Another question is whether they are fully followed and whether they bring the expected results”, he notes.
Farkhod Niyazov, the Head of Corporate Communications Coordination at Carlsberg Group (Denmark), reminds that civil servants often talk about the number of meetings, conferences, round tables, prepared and presented reports and reporting notices. Many people consider this kind of activities one of the main, if not the only one correct indicator of work efficiency. Nevertheless, if we look at the KPI development of public institutions in terms of creating a social outcome, this would be just the first result level out of three.
Outputs are often confused with activity, whereas it is actually the first level of project-related results. This includes the direct results that the project has achieved within a short time period. They make it possible to give a numeric value to the activity. For example, organization of meetings, round tables, exhibitions, purchase of water filters ― all these actions relate to activities. Whereas the number of meetings, exhibitions, purchased filters is an output. Outcomes, depending on the objectives of the project, may be the coverage of people who participated in these events. For example, 15% of poor women in the country found out where they could get free additional education and subsequently find a job. Or 30% of households began to use purified drinking water. In the long term, Impacts (social effect) of such projects can be expressed in reducing the level of poverty among the population, reducing the rate of diarrhea caused by dirty drinking water and, as a result, increasing work productivity and reducing child mortality from diarrhea.
What has been done and what is to be done to enhance work efficiency of public institutions
According to Yulia Yakovleva’s view, there is still a lot of work to do. She identifies five main areas of the public service reform:
- Optimization of administrative processes, as well as functions and structures of the executive branch;
- Result-based management and budgeting;
- Implementation and optimization of administrative and official regulations, as well as regulations for the provision of public services;
- Widespread automation of public service delivery;
- Optimization and measurement of civil servants’ performance.
To implement these reforms, it is necessary to develop and adopt an effective civil service motivation system. The motivation largely depends on career advancement and remuneration of a civil servant based on the results and quality of the work he/she performs. It is very important to provide an objective assessment of his/her activities, which will become the blueprint for the system of remuneration and career advancement. It is also necessary to ensure mandatory fulfillment of tasks and strict responsibility towards the state and society.
Akram Mukhamatkulov notes a number of positive changes in the field of public administration:
- The civil service salaries have been increased and the working hours normalized;
- Inter-agency coordination has been improved, transparency and efficiency of decision making increased;
- Centers for public services under the Ministry of Justice have been opened, which took over many public services;
- Accountability of public institutions to the people has been created through openness of press services and independence of mass media, journalists, and bloggers. Within a short time period, we have managed to achieve incredible results.
According to him, the main problem of the civil service is overlapping of powers, lack of knowledge and qualification, a chronic lack of resources and time to complete tasks, as well as lack of automation of many processes. He believes that major changes are yet to come:
- Implementing administrative reform. It is necessary to introduce a new system of recruitment, advanced training and motivation of staff, as well as to divide the system into professional civil servants and political appointees;
- Determining necessary skills and competencies for civil servants, depending on the level of responsibility. It is necessary to eliminate overlapping powers;
- Creating a transparent career growth system, minimizing risks of corruption;
- Creating a KPI system with clear and understandable outputs;
- Automation of a number of processes.
In addition, according to Akram’s view, it is important to develop and implement a new leadership format so that the best and most talented persons in the labor market will want to work in the civil service. Besides, it is necessary to transmit a unifying message and a clear vision, to expand the areas of responsibility. He states, “The world is leaping forward with giant strides. If you do not use technology, do not read books, do not recognize the power of social networks and the Internet, do not develop creative thinking and innovative solutions in your team, do not travel ― it’s hard to stay in trend and correspond to the level of rapidly developing youth and private sector”.
Saidnumon Mansurov believes that attention should be given to the following areas:
- Methodology of personnel selection and systemic method, position and selection criteria. It is very important to eliminate nepotism: “We often become witnesses of social connections and do not see the rule of law or business ethics in action”;
- A decent salary so that civil servants are not tempted to be engaged in corrupt activities. A good level of remuneration will create a competitive environment for applicants. This, in turn, will help attract the best candidates to public administration (civil service);
- Implementation of a systemic and institutional approach: “In Western countries, not everything depends on the leader, whereas in our country we see the contrary. What kind of person a leader or a top manager is, so the things are going. We must create institutions with an effective mechanism for management and interaction, independent from individuals”;
- Creation of an institute for supporting new personnel from abroad: “Unfortunately, there is no institute for supporting these specialists. Today, the appointment to a new position does not actually guarantee the solutions of the problems, because the middle management still acts based on the old principles, family and friendly relations, which were mentioned above”.
Yulia Yakovleva emphasizes that the problem connected with inefficient work of civil servants exists also in other countries. Nevertheless, if in many European countries there is a trend towards reducing the number of employees and increasing their efficiency, in our country the reverse dynamics can be observed. Therefore, the costs for maintaining public institutions rise accordingly. If one calculates the real working efficiency, and not the number of hours that a civil servant spends in his/her workplace, it becomes clear how many workers are really needed to perform a particular task.
Akram Mukhamatkulov believes that bureaucracy and state regulation are everywhere. It is important to create a system that will work for the benefit of people and for the country’s development: “In most western countries, there are refined mechanisms for impartial licensing, provision of administrative and municipal services, social protection, registration, interaction with law enforcement agencies, and the like. The strength of a system is based on proper functioning of its institutions”.