Public Service Commission, Afioga Lauano Vaosa Epa, presented at the final World Bank Pacific Public Services COVID – 19: Adaptability Seminar which was held on the 23rd March, 2022.

The seminar was part of the Pacific Public Services & COVID-19 Series organized by the World Bank. This was the second time Samoa was invited to share its experience on leading the public service during COVID-19. The session was well attended by various countries from the Pacific region, including Samoa, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Cook Islands, Tuvalu and others. The webinars provided a platform for the Pacific Island countries to learn best practices from each other, particularly in maintaining a balance between continuing service delivery and keeping employees safe during the pandemic.

The aim of the seminar looked at three key areas:

  1. What are the key lessons learnt in managing public services during the crisis?
  2. What will we do differently, in light of these lessons?
  3. How can we strengthen our preparedness and resilience?

The Chairman shared key initiatives the Public Service Commission had put in place to guide its response and preparations for the pandemic, which were guided by the collaborative efforts led by the Ministry of Health together with the Disaster Advisory Council, the National Emergency Operation Center, as well as the high level direction of the Prime Minister and her Cabinet.

She mentioned that Samoa was seeing a rather quick impact especially on the frontline staff, who’ve tested positive for COVID. She reiterated however that Samoa has had 2 years to prepare for the possibility of a community transmission, and the country’s response efforts were still guided by the National Epidemic and Pandemic Preparedness and Response Plan 2020 – 2025, as well as up to date information relating to the Pandemic issued by the World Health Organization.

Lauano mentioned that the PSC had developed the Government Workforce COVID-19 Planning Guidelines, which provides guidance for all government agencies on what they need to do in terms of workforce arrangements at each Alert Level. The PSC has also issued regular reminders for all government agencies to develop and/or update Business Continuity Plans, to ensure there is minimal to no disruption to service delivery.

Lauano further added…

“we’ve had to constantly remind agencies that a lockdown does not mean instant holiday for public servants, it just means you have to make other arrangements to work from home or from a secure and safe location. There are special provisions for those classified as High Risk, where they may be allowed to work from home. We’ve also had to develop templates to help employees report from home, and help the employer hold their staff accountable. Of course, there is always a certain degree of flexibility. In addition, we’ve also included a COVID-19 Self-Assessment Form to help employers develop their lists of High-Risk Employees. This was modelled against guidance we got from the World Health Organization. And of course, these continue to evolve so we’ve also had to try and adapt.”

An important part of Lauano’s remarks was the inclusion of more intrinsic principles in the Guidelines, such as the Spirit of Service, being kind and empathetic, which were strongly acknowledged by the World Bank Country Director for Papua New Guinea and the Pacific Islands – Mr.  Stephen Ndegwa.

In her final remarks, Lauano encouraged all public services around the Pacific region including Samoa to be resilient, agile and ready to adapt as circumstances unfold. This was also reiterated by Donna Andrews – the Senior Governance Specialist of the Global Lead – Public Institutions of the World Bank, whereby she echoed the need for the public service to adapt and have the agility to move quickly and respond effectively in times of crises.