This piece was written by Esther Spio, Assistant to the Special Adviser to the Minister on the SDGs — Ghana’s Ministry of Finance. For more like this, see our spotlight on public service leadership in Africa.
Many young Ghanaians no longer find the civil service attractive. They do not see it as a viable source of opportunity for career development and impact. I decided to join the civil service because of my aspiration to become the first female president of my country.
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I observed that in Ghana, and other parts of Africa, life revolves around the government. The civil service was the invisible machine that facilitated the government’s work. Only by being part of that machine could I learn about — and take part in — the policymaking processes of the country.
Today, few young people seek out chances to enter the public sector upon graduation
Unfortunately, I am among a minority of young Ghanaians. Today, few young people seek out chances to enter the public sector upon graduation.
Firstly, the rapid growth of the middle class has increased the prospects of the private sector, and the public sector cannot offer similar financial rewards. Civil servants pride themselves in the impact made through the pursuit of sound policies, and not in the amount of personal profits made. Their goal is to ensure that there is a conducive environment for people, and businesses, to thrive. Young people looking to make quick money are unlikely to find the service appealing.
The issue of corruption has also marred the reputation of the service among young people. Reports about some government officials and technocrats taking advantage of the weaknesses in the structures of the civil service have caused many young people to reject offers in the sector for fear of being influenced by the system. To protect their future careers — and their status in society — they opt for different professions.
Part of the problem is the reluctance of civil servants to publicise their work
Part of the problem is the reluctance of civil servants to publicise their work and dispel some of the myths that circulate all too freely about the public service. There is an under-representation of the works of the service due to the communication gap between the people and the service. To this end, it appears that civil servants do not do much at their various organisations, and institutions — something I know to be untrue.
However, recent cutbacks have also deterred some young people from working in government. The Ghanaian civil service used to have striking incentives such as free transportation (to and from work), accommodation, and a host of allowances which led to increased productivity. Today, the dynamics of the global economy, coupled with rapid population growth among others, have resulted in the withdrawal of some of these assistances, and reduced the number of beneficiaries.
For me, working in the service has meant helping the country to develop, and to build a better future for my nation. Of course, there is room for improvement, but only by taking up encouraging young people to take up leading roles will the civil service develop. Their fresh energies, ideas, and enthusiasm would help in the rapid development of the country.
There is a new breed of young Ghanaians who are rising to take charge
Nonetheless, hope is not lost for the civil service in my country. There is a new breed of young Ghanaians who are rising to take charge of the development of the country, and I entered the civil service with the intention of being a part of them. This emerging group of like-minded fellows believe that the sacrifice of foregoing offers in other sectors is worth taking to transform the system and make it better.
Because the challenges facing the civil service won’t go away if young people steer clear. The way forward rests on my generation. — Esther Emanuella Spio
(Photo credit: Vera Obeng)