Why bother taking the civil service exam?

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  • Jul 18,2019
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State Palace

The salaries of the private and public sectors are very similar in Mongolia, but private sector jobs come with more stress at work and as a result, many young people want to get into government offices. Due to the fact that there are very few companies that will motivate young

people to become good CEOs in Mongolia, perhaps people prefer to work in the public sector or go abroad for better jobs. In addition, many Mongolians, especially young people, like making easy money and chasing a career or glory, and they believe that good government offices will help them reach their purposes. This is why a lot of new graduates are lining

up to take one particular exam, called the civil service exam. The civil service exam includes questions about the Mongolian law and history, logical reasoning, Mongolian linguistics, letter writing, filing, organizational skills, and basic computer skills. The test also includes an interview, so getting a government position is not easy. If you are interested in getting an entry-level position with the government, you need to learn Mongolian law and practice letter writing, logical reasoning and filing for several months or a year to get a high score. This is because you won’t get a job you’ve applied for unless you get the top score on the exam.

Let me tell you a little bit about process of the exam. If you answer 60 percent of 60 questions on the law, history, and logic, correctly, and 60 percent of 15 questions on Mongolian linguistics, letter writing, and filing correctly, you move onto the next steps for the exam, computer skills assignments and an interview. If you get an overall score of 60 percent on the exam, you will be registered for two years on a list of applicants for government official positions, but if you fail either the exams, you will not move on to the computer skills assignments and interview, and will have to wait for the next exam. In reality, passing the exam with a score close to the required 60 percent will not help you get a job, so you should get a score of nearly 80 percent to grab a job within the government. 

However, some government offices announce vacancies with very narrow criteria, especially exams for positions in government leadership set very narrow criteria for qualifications, experience, and other essential requirements for employment, including evaluating the applicant's interests, vision and goals when applying for a position. If you get higher points before the interview, you won’t be happy with your achievement because the interview can turn your success into a failure at the final result. There are many examples showing people who succeed in the tests prior to the interview, failed the exam as the final result because the interview was too challenging. Unless you get first place in an exam, you probably won’t get a good government job unless you have good connections or money. Success in exams for the selection of department heads at government agencies or ministries, or success in becoming head of an agency is almost impossible unless you are a key member of the ruling party. 

According to Section 27.3 of the Law on Civil Service, an employer has the right to reject your appointment even if you get the highest points through the civil servant selection process. The amendments to the Law on Civil Servants, which came into effect on January 1 2018, still keep this section. Such loopholes can be very beneficial to people with good connections within the government. 

Let me share with you, a real story of a 32-year old man, and about how he failed to become a government official. A man named Kh.Batbold had worked at a private company for three years as a manager and worked as a civil servant for over four years previously. He was a man interested in switching from the private sector to the public sector and thus applied for a job vacancy announced at a Mongolian Government ministry in October, 2018. By the end of October, Kh.Batbold took a civil service exam for the vacancy he applied for, received a high score for his final result and became excited about working at the ministry as an official. According to the law, the Civil Service Council (CSC) asked the ministry to hire Kh.Batbold, as he successfully got first place in the exam, but in response to the CSC’s request, the ministry replied that it would not hire Kh.Batbold, despite his achievement in the exam, experience and passion. 

Instead, the ministry decided to hire another person who did not take the October exam. If the ministry declines to hire someone who received first place on the exam, why then did the ministry announced the vacancy and asked CSC to hold exams for new employees? Under the law, the Civil Service Council (CSC) organized the selection process and evaluated applicants interested in applying for the positions based on their qualifications, experience, and other essential requirements. As Kh.Batbold reacted to the ministry’s decision, he filed a complaint to CSC. In January, the CSC asked the ministry why it did not hire Kh.Batbold. Three months later, the ministry replied to the CSC, “The ministry decided to not hire Kh.Batbold due to lack of experience.” The ministry made a decision to not hire Kh.Batbold because his experience did not meet qualifications that were not outlined in the vacancy announcement. It is not a fair decision because he didn’t need to have experience outside the essential requirements outlined in the announcement. As he fulfilled all essential requirements which were outlined in the vacancy announcement, CSC allowed him to take the exam. 

The State Secretary invited Kh.Batbold for an interview at the end of January, and a few days after the interview took place, a human resource manager at the ministry told Kh.Batbold that the State Secretary agreed to hire him. The manager asked Kh.Batbold to come to the ministry to fill out a preliminary asset statement for the Independent Authority Against Corruption (IAAC) to check out possible conflicts of interest. On the same day, the man filled out the statement, and was confident that the IAAC would allow him to be hired because he did not have a business. Kh.Batbold waited for the IAAC’s decision for a month and eventually did not receive good news from the ministry. He called the human resource manager and asked why the IAAC did not respond to his asset statement, but the manager replied that the ministry had not submitted his statement to the IAAC. The human resource manager did not provide him with accurate information as to why the ministry did not submit his statement to the IAAC. When Kh.Batbold personally met with the manager to make sure what happened, the manager told him that she could not give him a reason why the ministry rejected his appointment. The manager then advised him that if he wanted to know why the ministry rejected his appointment, he had to meet with the State Secretary and the head of the ministry’s Public Administration and Management face to face. According to the manager’s recommendation, Kh.Batbold wanted to meet with the two heads of the ministry, but their assistants did not allow him to meet with them, giving the excuse the two heads were busy. 

The ministry’s long-standing bureaucracy caused Kh.Batbold to give up, making a complaint to the ministry again because it took too much time. Although Kh.Batbold texted Prime Minister U.Khurelsukh and a lawmaker who was elected from an area where he lived to ask for their help in dealing with the challenge facing him, the PM and the lawmaker did not pay attention to his problem at all Lawmaker D.Togtokhsuren, the key author of amendments to the Law on Civil Service, said that the amended version of the law closed many loopholes of the former law and would protect the rights of civil servants and give more people the chance to enter government. However, his statement is the exact opposite of reality. If we want to make Mongolia more competitive in the region, as well as the world, we should hire competitive employees and carry out more fair and transparent processes for selecting new civil servants. 

If we stick in the existing system of nepotism and donor influence, this will only be beneficial to people with good connections or a lot of money. This ultimately undermines Mongolia’s long-term competitiveness in the 21st century.