Tuesday January 5 2010

Should relatives work together?

By Vicky Wandawa

Recently, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education, Francis Lubanga was accused in a written report, of filling a considerable number of the vacancies in the Ministry of Education with his relatives. Currently, the matter is still causing debate.

However, John Mitala, the Head of Public Service, says that recruitment into the Public Service follows a clear procedure that mitigates any sort of malpractices, and he is confident that it’s effective, basing on the fact that the Commission responsible for recruiting staff in any ministry is way out of any Permanent Secretary’s influence. “When any ministry identifies the need to recruit new staff, those in that particular department will send the requirements such as the specific job details and qualifications to the commission for that particular ministry,” Mitala explains.

He insists that the rest of the procedures regarding recruitment in the ministry, besides framing the job requirements, is done by a totally independent party, its commission, for example Health Service Commission for the Ministry Of Health, or Education Service Commission for Ministry of Education. “The commission looks through all the applications received, shortlists the suitable candidates, conducts interviews, and picks the best candidate (s).”
Mitala rules out any kind of influence peddling because the commission is totally independent of the ministry it’s attached to, and says it’s vital to note that each ministry has a commission, except the Electoral and Judicial ministries, which carry out their own procedures as regards recruitment for vacancies. “Not even I can influence who is chosen for a post in the ministry. I can only sit on the panel recruiting, nothing more,” Mitala says. “Therefore, a Permanent Secretary cannot directly hire or recruit anyone; recruitment is through the commission,” he adds. Mitala further says that the responsibility of the commission as regards recruitment for the different ministries, is clear in the Constitution of Uganda, and quotes Article 167 of the Constitution, which entails the terms and qualifications of members that constitute the Education Service Commission as well as its functions. He also quotes Article 172 which entails the appointment of public officers.

The Human Resource Manager, MTN Uganda, Michael Sekadde, also an affiliate of the Association of Human Resource Managers, says the company has a restrictive policy against hiring relatives in the same department. For purposes of this policy, relative entails spouse, mother, father, brother, sister, son, daughter, nephew, niece, grandson, granddaughter, aunt and uncle.

To uphold the policy, when in the preliminary stages of recruiting new staff, contenders are asked to declare their bio data. “We also do a thorough background check because we don’t think it’s right to have relatives working in the same department,” Sekadde says. The HR Manager adds that the Human Resource department doesn’t permit recruitment of relatives within the same work unit, even when there is no direct reporting relationship between them.

“In case one is hired and it’s later discovered that they did not fully reveal their bio data and are working in the same department with a relative, their contract with MTN Uganda will be certainly reviewed,” Sekadde warns. He further explains the company’s grounds for the strict policy, principally citing conflict of interest and collusion. “One may fall short of making the right decision where their relative is involved. Take an example where your sister is your boss, whatever your conduct at work, she may fail to discipline you or issue you a warning letter.” “With relatives in the same department, collusion is very probable, whereby the relatives may influence decisions only favourable to them. This can emerge in various forms such as unmerited promotions and even fraud,” he adds. While MTN requests job applicants to reveal their bio data, SDV Transami hardly requests for bio data before recruitment. Erastus Nzirabakunzi, SDV Transami’s Human Resource Manager says, “Applicants are not asked to reveal whether they have relatives already working with the company or not.”
“Asking them to reveal would be like discrimination. We have a data bank with applications, which are picked out randomly when the need for recruitment arises. Also, when applications are solicited from the public, whoever has the best qualifications takes the job, whether or not they have relatives already working with SDV Transami,” he adds.

Nzirabakunzi however says he detests lobbying especially from a section or departmental head for relatives to be recruited for a particular job, as it can lead to troublesome workplace situations especially when co-workers discover it was all about influence peddling. “The co-workers may not feel comfortable working with the individual and the person too wouldn’t be comfortable.” Clearly, employing relatives is a sensitive issue that has to be handled specially, to steer clear of stepping on people’s toes and also avoid shortcomings that may arise from relatives working together, especially in the same work unit.