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Commonwealth expert Kelly Culver (third from the left) with local colleagues during the Public Service Excellence Day at the Flacq Fire Station, Mauritius.

Transforming the civil service in Mauritius

19 December 2016
Kelly Culver describes a typical day on the job as Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation expert supporting civil service improvements in Mauritius.

After he visited Mauritius in 1896, the author Mark Twain is reported to have said, "Mauritius was made first and then heaven; and heaven was copied after Mauritius."  I arrived in Mauritius in April and within the first three weeks had fallen in love with the country, the people, the work and the vibe.

My day typically starts early with the chirping of the birds outside my window as they build their nests in the palm trees and the gecko (whom I call Geronimo) screaming from the kitchen.  When I hear that, I know it’s time to get up, make a cup of coffee and facetime my husband back in Canada.  Thank goodness for the wonders of technology that allow us the freedom to work anywhere in the world and stay connected.

On my commute to work I see a rainbow, a regular occurrence for me. A rainbow is an upside-down smile and it strikes me that Mauritius is the happiest country in which I have worked. I make my way up the palm-tree lined Place D’Armes, past Government House and to my office where, on the twelfth floor, I have a panoramic view of Port Louis, the Citadel and the Moka mountain range.

Today I will be briefing Marie Roland Alain Wong Yen Cheong, minister of civil service and administrative reforms, on the public sector business transformation strategy and implementation plan so we can move forward to the cabinet of ministers. As I prepare for the briefing, I reflect on what has happened in the past eight months.

This project started out with the mandate to help create a civil service reforms strategy and implementation plan for the government of Mauritius.  To ensure that the strategy is fit-for-purpose for the country, I felt it was important to have wide and far ranging workshops and consultations with as many staff, stakeholders and other groups as possible.  To this end, I connected with and listened to over 500 public officers in all cadres. 

I’ve also conducted over 50 stakeholder meetings with ministries, departments, agencies, trade unions, non-governmental organisations representing civil society, universities, private sector organisations and international organisations.  I’ve even met with the president, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, about being a role model for women and young girls and madam speaker, Hanoomanjee Santi Bai, about her leading-edge work on the new Parliamentary Gender Caucus, to empower women and achieve gender equality.

What I’ve learned through this listening journey is that it is not really about reform at all.  We have shifted away from the concept of civil service reforms and re-engineering, which is predominantly administrative and process-based, to a vision of whole-of-government public sector business transformation.  It places emphasis on a collective response to the business of government as well as themes of national importance, creating a joint ownership model for implementation, action and results.  The other thing I have learned from listening is that ‘reform’ has a negative connotation; as if people have been doing something wrong and I am here to fix it.  This couldn’t be further from the truth. 

These consultations continue to reinforce that we all have value and we all have a voice, regardless of our perspective, our community, our background.  One of the most poignant manifestations of this came from an office care attendant in the police department.  He had been invited to one of the consultations and, as customary, tea was served during a break. He told me that this day was only the second time in his 40-year career that someone else had made tea for him (the other was at his first day of work).  It was so important to him that he wanted to have a picture with me to take home and show his wife and family.  In our desire to focus on bold decisions and big results, we forget that the small inclusive gestures, particularly of dignity and respect, are sometimes more important and have a more profound impact on transformation and changing mindsets. 

Public sector transformation is not just about delivering savings, efficiencies and growth in the economy.  It also is about moving to customer-centric service delivery where government services and actions wrap around the client, citizen and employee.  It is a modern, adaptive, responsive public service that shifts from performing activities to providing a service that keeps pace with the way society is changing. 

After a brief lunch break to take in some dholl puri or a sumptuous Mauritian roti, I am ready to deliver the briefing. Throughout the minister is very supportive and provides clear direction on proceeding to cabinet.  He comments that “the strategy supports the continuous evolution we are striving for”.  The senior chief executive states with conviction and passion that “this strategy requires bold decisions that will help us position the public service for the future and leave a legacy of which I can be proud”. 

I cannot do this alone.  I have been supported by a strong team of senior public sector thought leaders who are relentless in their hands-on support, encouragement, trouble-shooting and passion for change.  There also is a multi-disciplined project team at the Ministry of Civil Service and Administrative Reforms where I am based.  We take a collaborative approach to the work we do, making sure that there is knowledge exchange and capacity building.  They also look after me, ensuring I am fully immersed in the experience of Mauritius!

My day typically ends with a trip to the rooftop of my apartment where I look out across Grand Baie and the Indian Ocean, reflect on the day and smile to myself at how happy and lucky I am to be here and how much I love my job.