Should competent civil servants be retained beyond retirement ages?
The case to either retain civil servants who have attained the retirement age of 60 years has widely been discussed by academics, practitioners and the media over the years and in recent times too. Per Ghana’s 1992 Constitution, the Civil Service Act 1993 (PNDCL 327) and the Labour Act of 2003 (Act 651), government workers must compulsory retire at the age of sixty (60).
However, there aren’t many role model civil servants who have excelled in leadership and have turned their respective institutions into high-performing entities. The question then arises, should we retain few and rare breed of competent and experienced civil servants beyond their retirement age?
The other side of the coin suggests that retirement age is a critical component of labour policy and should be respected. A compelling reason for setting the retirement age has been the need to make room for young people to enter the job market and contribute their quota to national development.
Retaining civil servants beyond their retirement ages would certainly hinder this process and reduce job opportunities for young people eager to enter the workforce. Additionally, it is seen as being distortionary in the work environment due to its direct effect on the promotion ladder, as younger workers will be denied chance to aspire and/or advance in their careers.
While, the argument to let go experienced and achieved civil servants on attaining retirement age holds water in Ghana with rising youth and graduate unemployment, we should also avert our minds to the fact that experience and competence count in turning around the fortunes of every organisation. Civil and public services are critical government establishments that may have to retain competent and experienced workers beyond their retirement ages from time to time for positive transformation. This has legal backing in Ghana’s 1992 Constitution as Amended in 1996 to add article 199(4) where its framers foresaw that public officers who get retired, after attaining the age of 60years may be engaged for a limited period of not more than two (2) years at a time but not exceeding five (5) years in all. Indeed, it will be a great disservice to Mother Ghana to retire her jewels who brace the storms to innovatively revamp institutions and steer them to greater heights of performance for the simplistic reason of such individuals attaining the retirement age of 60 years.
It is key to note that the shout to not retain civil and public servants beyond their retirement ages is not unique to Ghana. Other countries have grappled with this issue and have overtime developed various strategies to deal with it. In some countries, civil and public servants who reached retirement age are on records to have been given the option to either work on a contract or part-time basis. This allows for such rare breed of workers to continue contribute their expertise to nation building while helping mentor the younger generation that joins the workforce as role models. Based on the supreme law of Ghana, the 1992 Constitution, employers (i.e. both Government and private sector) are to terminate the employment of workers once they reach retirement age unless contract extension is offered the employee with clearly stated conditions of service. Additionally, Ghana’s Pension Act of 2008 (Act 766) sets out the framework for the management of pensions in the country. The law stipulates that a worker who reaches the retirement age of 60 is entitled to receive pension benefits. Clearly, the decision to retain civil and public servants beyond retirement age in the past was purely based on competencies and one’s ability to keep contributing to nation building. However, such decisions were not automatic but were made on a case-by-case basis based on numerous factors.
Drawing on case studies from other countries in Africa and across the globe, it is clear that several strategies have been used to deal with the issue of retaining civil and public servants beyond their retirement age. Specifically, in South Africa, the government introduced a policy allowing public servants to work up to the age of 65, provided they meet certain performance criteria. The idea behind this policy is to retain experienced and competent workers who can continue contribute to the public service. Similarly, in Nigeria, the government recently approved the extension of service for some professors in public universities who were to retire at age 70 according to 2018 Revised Edition of the National Universities Commission (NUC) Act. Section 4(1)(a)(ii). This decision was made to allow the professors to continue their research and mentoring of younger academics, and to ensure that the universities benefit from their vast experience and knowledge. In developed countries like United State of America (USA) and the United Kingdom (UK), the issue of retaining civil servants beyond retirement age has also been widely and wildly discussed. In the USA, there is no mandatory retirement age for federal employees, but some agencies have set an age limit of 70. The UK has a mandatory retirement age of 65 for most civil servants, but this was abolished in 2011 for some workers in recognition of the value of retaining experienced and skilled workers (Repeal of Retirement Age Provisions, Regulations 2011).
In addition to labour policy considerations, there is an economic argument to be made too on the need to retain competent civil servants beyond the retirement age of 60. Experienced and competent civil servants possess a wealth of knowledge and institutional memory that are crucial to the success of government institutions. If these civil servants are forced to retire at age 60, the government may incur costs in recruiting and training new staff to fill their positions. This is particularly true in cases where the retiring civil servant is in a leadership position or has unique skills that are not readily available in the labour market. The cost of attracting, hiring, training and developing new staff can be significant and costly especially in these trying times that we have crisis at hand to navigate and stabilise our economy as opposed retaining experienced hands who know the ins and outs of their organisations. Furthermore, retaining experienced civil servants may lead to improved productivity and efficiency in government institutions. These men of steel have seen it all, horned their skills, paid the price for the prize, have scars to show for their sour smiles and with the right combinations of good heart, good hands and good heads can with ease solve many of the challenges that confront us as a people on cost-effective basis in the long run. In contrast, new employees regardless of how skilful they are need a learning curve to adapt to their environments and in the current circumstance that we find ourselves this may lower productivity and efficiency in at least the short term. Finally, retaining experienced civil and public servants may positively impact on the quality-of-service delivery. This may be the case because civil servants who have worked years in government institutions have social capital in the form of developed relationships and thus have deep understanding of the needs of the public they serve to then help government to effectively deliver on its mandate.
To have the best of both worlds, by smoothly absorbing Ghana’s cherished youth into the civil and public services to allow them contribute their bid to Ghana’s socio-economic transformation without sacrificing the seasoned civil servants of sound minds and good health – can these hard questions be asked now?: (i) Is the time right for Ghana to comprehensively review her retirement age policy to reflect the realities of the time as had been done elsewhere? (ii) Does the nation want to vary the current truth that appointment to the senior hierarchy in the public service is through contracts, open tender or limited engagements? (iii) Are Ghanaians ready to amend the 1992 Constitution, which accepts non-uniformity in the mandatory retirement age of public servants? (iv) How best going forward can Ghanaians develop and implement an objective and robust performance evaluation criteria for individuals whose contracts get extended beyond the retirement age of 60? (v) Are there other ways to address youth unemployment as a major challenge, while still creating room to keep tapping the valuable skills and social capital possessed by civil servants post-retirement period? (vi) How long is it sufficient for engaged experienced retired civil servants to smoothly transfer skills for effective transition and succession in government institutions?
The bitter truth is that until Ghanaians creatively crack the above posed questions, it is evident that contract extensions for seasoned civil servants will continue to be with us for a long time.
By Emmanuel Boakye Ansah