Q&A with Alex Rath, director general human resource | 24 September 2020
Mr Rath speaks on his journey and role within the Department of Culture
When did your career as a civil servant start and how has your journey been?
I completed the Secretarial School in 1987. At the time, I was not sure about the career path I wanted to take, and so I applied for the post of Machine Operator at the Seychelles Water Department, now Public Utilities Corporation. My role was mainly monitoring the amount of chlorine in the water. After three months, I applied for a post of Account Assistant/ Machine Operator at the Treasury Department.
I remember working with huge computers. My six-year stunt at the Treasury Department ended when I was offered the position of Accounts Technician at the Ministry of Education. It was a promotion, and so I took it. At the time, I had already enrolled for an accounting course at Seychelles Institute of Management (SIM).
Again, I received another promotion to the post of Assistant Accountant at the Ministry of Culture and Information. Here, I worked for 7 years and was in-charge of the Accounts Unit. The Ministry was changed to Ministry of Local Government, Youths, Sports and Culture and I was transferred to the Department of Local Government where I was mandated to set up all the Accounting Systems. The accounting procedures needed some restructuring and so the procedures I put in place were not welcomed by all, but they were followed anyway.
Following the attainment of my Diploma in Accounting, I became a Senior Accountant. It did not take long before Local Government received a name change to Community Development and I was offered the position of Director General in Administration. Another opportunity presented itself and I was made the Director General for Human Resource and Finance at the Department of Culture in 2012.
Currently, I hold the position of Director for Human Resource at the Department of Culture. And I think I will retire in this position.
Organisations today have increasingly become aware of the importance of strategic Human Resource Management in their performance. As the Director General for Human Resource at the Department of Culture, what policies and practices have you used to enhance the performance of the Department?
Policies and procedures create a good working relationship between the management and staff. It ensures culture of working, good environment, team work and service delivery.
We have written guidelines, procedures and standards which have to be followed. These include; emphasis on behaviour, attitude, punctuality, self-managed teams, health and safety among others. In ensuring health and safety, for instance, we have provided first aid training to all employees.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, we held talks based on our policies with staff from various units as a reminder of what is expected of them and in ensuring service delivery.
These are some of the guidelines helping us ensure that we meet the mandate of the Department. It is also to be noted that some staff have received training both locally and overseas in a bid to improve their skills.
You head four units; Human Resources, Projects, IT Unit and Support Services, are there specific principles you follow to ensure the smooth running of all the units?
Service delivery is the key element of our department. To enable this, I meet with all departmental heads every Monday to prepare the work plan for each unit. During these meetings, we also discuss outstanding issues such as projects in progress and if deadlines are not met, the head of the unit has to table a report.
This is how I monitor all the units and ensure that they are performing according to their mandates.
One of the challenges facing the public service today is a lack of human resource. It is said that more training and development to the specific ministry or department should be enhanced especially where specialized technical knowledge is needed for better performance. What expertise is lacking at the Department of Culture?
Employees face various challenges at the workplace. I think we need to introduce training programmes focused on honing employee skills. We also need to ensure consistency of such training programmes. There is also a need to make employees aware of new developments or expectations.
The recent mold infestation of the National Library and Archives shows there is a need to have a Conservation Specialist to advise on conservation procedures, preservation and treatment in all aspects withing the Department of Culture. This is currently lacking. We need to look into all the fields and provide training for what is lacking.
It is important to note that in the past, the Department of Culture has offered certificate courses in Library to staff and will soon continue with Diploma courses. Despite the many courses offered in various fields including Human Resource and Accounting, training in Archives is still lacking.
Covid-19 has affected most if not all Departmental functions. As the Director General for Human Resource, what measures have you taken to ensure the safety of your employees?
We have put in place guidelines on health and safety in relation to recommendations given by the Public Health Authority and the World Health Organisation. The guidelines are simple ways to prevent the spread of Covid-19 within the workplace, such as, ensuring cleanliness at the workplace, encouraging regular handwash, use of hand sanitizer, keeping an attendance book for our staff and visitors as well as social distancing at the workplace.
Recently, our staff received sensitization talk from the Health Authority on measures that can be used to prevent the spread of the virus and this was well received by our staff.
In your opinion, how has the pandemic affected the Seychellois people in practicing their culture?
Culture is the most fundamental way that shape how people live. The pandemic has not affected much how the Seychellois live their lives; however, it has prevented people from visiting places like the library, theatre, heritage sites as well as musical shows. The Seychellois love musical shows.
Additionally, attending the mass is part of our culture. During the outbreak in Seychelles, people could not congregate and it is to be noted that there are individuals who have not been to mass since.
In relation to work, for some time, many people were forced to work from home including our Department. In my job in the Administrative docket, we deal with a lot of files and therefore during the partial lockdown, we could not process the files.
It is to be noted that these challenges have presented us with opportunities to re-evaluate how we work. We are therefore in the process of establishing a Human Resource Information System (HRIS) such that if there is a second wave, we will be able to continue with our work from home.
I have also noticed that employees have become more productive as we do not know about tomorrow.
You have accumulated 24 years of experience at the Department of Culture, how has this journey been and what are some of the Departmental achievements you’ve been part of over the years?
I have gained a lot of experience in the Accounting and Administration fields. I have had a lot of opportunities and I am proud of the work I have done for my country.
The Change in Ministry dockets was quite a challenge for me as I faced countless tests but I am glad I overcame the challenges.
Within the Department of Culture, I have not been directly involved in major projects, however, I have offered administrative support to ensure that projects and objectives of the Department are met.
Our role has been to promote culture within the communities and this far, it has been an amazing experience.