Civil Service Evaluation System Reform: Jihad or Terrorism?
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
March 23, 2010
Reform of the civil service evaluation system will necessarily provoke intense conflict. This is hardly surprising. What is surprising is how government heads have taken the lead in badmouthing such reforms.
Two issues are involved in the dispute over civil service evaluation system reform. One concerns principles. The other concerns technical obstacles. Each has provoked both positive and negative reactions. During debates, Wu Den-yih, Li Yong-ping, and other government heads left the public with the impression they were sacrificing their principles merely because they had encountered some technical obstacles. What these government heads should have done, was to approach technical obstacles from the perspective of principle, and aspired to create a system the public could respect.
First, we should make clear just how much slack the new system has. Kuan Chung said "If one gets a C rating this year, no problem. Just work hard and get an A next year." This remark exposed the new system as a "toothless tiger." Under new regulations, 3% of all personnel will be given a C rating. Anyone who receives three consecutive C ratings will be forced to retire or laid off. But nobody is likely to receive three consecutive Cs under the existing system, unless there is absolutely no alternative. What Kuan Chung said in effect was, "So what if one gets two consecutive Cs? Just get a B next year!" In other words, in actual practice, the new system's mechanism for "punishing poor performance and eliminating poor performers" is virtually non-existent. The mandatory C ratings for 3% of all personnel will have nothing more than a warning effect, or "catfish effect."
The "catfish effect" is what happens when a catfish is introduced into a tank full of sardines. The catfish alarms the sardines, forcing them to remain active. The catfish does not actually eat the sardines. If such a softball evaluation system were implemented in Singapore or South Korea, the number of C ratings handed out would be set at 10% or more. In fact, even 10% is too lenient. This is why the public thinks the new system is weak. From a management perspective, we agree. If government heads fail to point civil servants in the right direction, if they fail to acknowledge the legitimacy of civil service reform, but instead speak of "technical obstacles" or even demonize reform efforts and encourage civil servants to take to the streets, we consider it incomprehensible.
Wu Den-yih, Li Yong-ping, and others have raised concerns about the new system. Their concerns are not unreasonable. For example, if every agency, good or bad, big or small, is forced to give 3% of its personnel C ratings, that may be unfair. But if one compares public schools against other public schools, and private schools against other private schools, then one public school must be in last place. One cannot refuse to rate other public schools merely because one does not wish to give a particular public school a C rating. Giving 3% of all agencies, good or bad, big or small, C ratings may involve technical obstacles. But government heads have heavy responsibilities. They cannot refuse to see the forest for the trees.
Even stranger reasons have been trotted out. Some have actually said that "a government head handing out ratings is like someone wielding a knife. Good people get cut, bad people purge their opponents." But this is a problem every office in the world must cope with. Even without C ratings for 3% of all employees, concerns over who gets an A and who gets a B remain, even under our current system. Government heads have heavy responsibilities. Is it not shocking that they would invoke the standards of the "man in the street" when evaluating civil service reform?
Reform is like war. Those who direct the war, must define the war. The Examination Yuan has referred to reform as a "jihad." It has apparently become what Wu Den-yih and Li Yong-ping have described as "terrorist activities." Government reform efforts have been incorrectly spun as a civil war between civil servants. A government ought to act in unison. This war has been misnamed, making it difficult to prosecute. It has become a case of "I do not know what I'm fighting for, and I do not know whom I'm fighting for."
How an issue is perceived, depends upon how it is defined. Reform of the civil service evaluation system can improve civil servants' self-esteem and sense of honor. It can also incite discontent within the ranks of the civil service. Wu Den-yih and other government heads are not being unreasonable when they cite "technical obstacles." But if inflammatory speech succeeds in demonizing such a moderate, even slack new system in the minds of civil servants, then thes government heads have acted irresponsibly, and their political response must be considered a debacle.
This debate over civil service evaluation reform has mired the Ma administration in "civil strife," in a "damned if you do, and damned if you don't" dilemma. The government has defined its reform efforts as a "jihad." Some may oppose a jihad, but at least those who support it will give it their seal of approval. But if even some in the government consider the government's reform efforts "terrorist activities," those who oppose it will continue to oppose it. And even those who support it will be disillusioned by the government's "civil strife." Voter support will evaporate as a consequence of one such fiasco after another.
Reform is like war. Those who direct the war, must first define the war.
2010.03.23 02:19 am