Following the gradual easing of the lockdown earlier imposed to curtail the spread of coronavirus, the Federal Government has been grappling with the challenges of managing governments business in a safe environment. CALEB ONWE reports
hen the lockdown was relaxed and certain categories of workers asked to return to work, apprehension was rife that civil servants would be at risk of contracting the dreaded virus, since they were going to be interfacing with different people who visit government facilities for various services.
The exemption of workers from grade level 13 downwards from the resumption of duties was a directive aimed at achieving considerable social distancing and reducing unnecessary crowd but it could not placate already nervous minds.
This may not be unconnected with the anxiety that saturated the atmosphere since the index case of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) was reported in Nigeria on February 27, 2020.
In a swift move to douse the tension, the Head of Service of the Federation, Dr. Folasade Yemi-Esan, paid an unscheduled visit to some government facilities to ascertain the level of preparedness to implement the safety measures recommended by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19.
Yemi-Esan, who said that Civil Service was the engine room of government, noted that agencies, ministries and parastatals must comply with all safety measures and health protocols to ensure the safety of the work place against COVID-19 pandemic.
While she expressed satisfaction that adequate provisions have been made for hand washing , hand sanitizers and crowd control measures at Federal Secretariat Phase 1, she was however, not happy that the toilet facilities were in poor hygienic conditions.
She explained that the unscheduled inspection was to find out how ready permanent secretaries have put the secretariat in readiness for their staff to resume duties.
“We have come to see for ourselves, especially for this COVID-19 that is ravaging the world; the office of the Head of Service has put out guidelines to the Permanent Secretaries on what they should do and what they should provide for staff. So, I am here to find out if the Permanent secretaries here have complied with all those instructions.
“They have put out hand washing points which is very good. At the Ministry of Aviation, in addition to the hand washing materials, they have put out enough points for sanitizing hands and so on, which is very good.
“But I am not happy with my visit to the toilet. And I have asked them to make sure they improve on the toilet facilities. Water supply is a major challenge, especially at Phase One. So, in addition to the efforts of the Permanent Secretaries here, I am also working with the Permanent Secretary, FCT and also with the Minister of Finance to ensure that this problem is resolved once and for all,” she said.
Inside Abuja gathered that concerted efforts were being made to ensure that the civil service was not completely grounded due to the festering pandemic and its adverse impact on the economy.
The effort to save the civil service from further redundancy, was predicated on the fact that the World Health Organisation (WHO) had declared the disease a pandemic which may not be eliminated soon.
Inside Abuja’s check revealed that the compulsory Stay-at-Home of Non-Essential Public Servants on Grade Level 13 and below issued on 23rd March, and partial resumption of duties by Officers on Grade Level 14 and above, and those on essential duties issued on 30th April, 2020, were all safety measures for workers, but had taken serious economic tolls on the government.
For more than three months now, workers on grade level 13 downwards have been near unproductive, following a directive from the Head of Service that only those on essential duties should be at work, while the rest should work from home.
The Head of Service explained that it was imperative to ensure a cautionary but effective workflow that will help to revamping the economy.
According to her, while measures were articulated to protect workers, proactive steps were also taken to ensure that work goes on and services are still rendered to the public.
It was further learnt that part of effort to ensure effective workflow in the civil service, was the introduction of regular virtual meetings.
While physical large meetings been discouraged to curb the spread of the virus, virtual/video conferencing and meetings has been adopted in handling important official matters without putting workers at unnecessary risks.
Inside Abuja learnt that the Head of Service of the Federation had been meeting with Permanent Secretaries (Service-Wide), Accountant General of the Federation and Auditor General of the Federation through the virtual mode.
Yemi-Esan had also clarified that during the lockdown, official functions were not completely deserted, as she hosted a Virtual Interactive Session with Civil Servants on April 17, 2020, a Webinar which lasted for about two hours had about Five Hundred (500) Civil Servants from all cadres in attendance.
What the public service must do post COVID-19
Considering the heavy blow dealt on socioeconomic life of the society by COVID -19, which crumbled the global economy overnight, both the public and private sector players are already seeking innovative ways that businesses can be done.
Inside Abuja gathered that beside developing guidelines that will govern virtual meetings in the public service, there are also ongoing plans to ensure that the interest of workers were adequately galvanized against unforeseen pandemic like COVID-19.
Yemi-Esan disclosed that plans have been concluded for the Implementation of the Group Life Assurance (GLA) Scheme, for Federal Government employees in 48 MDAs for the year 2020 .
“The times we find ourselves pose unique challenges and a demand to live up to a new dimension of civil service effectiveness that can promote quick economic recovery in the midst of future crisis.
“Therefore, in view of the present circumstances, which we are in, it is of essence that we fast track the timely implementation of all deliverables,” she said.
According to the Head of Service, Nigerians came face to face with the realities of digitization during the COVID-19 lockdown, as they lived their lives and did many things digitally.
She noted that going forward, the Public Service must proactively put in place structures and mechanisms to digitize administrative processes to ensure improved and seamless running of government business.
“In this light, the Office of the Head of Service is working towards implementing the following as part of its Digitization plan and proposed policy on remote working. Some of the processes to be digitized include: Establishment processes , Recruitment processes , Learning and Development processes Payroll processes , Employee management processes.
“Public servants must therefore prepare themselves for the new workplace that will emerge post COVID-19. Change management seminars will also be organised to ease the transition to a more digitised workplace,” she said.