IN the 2018 proposed National Budget the Honourable Minister of Finance Patrick Chinamasa proposed a raft of measures to control staff costs. This was a step in the right direction for the government, given that staff costs are taking a big chunk of the national budget. I am happy to note that government has realised that current staff cost to income is not sustainable as it leaves no room for government to fund critical national projects and other important services.
Whenever staff rationalisation takes place, those likely to be affected will not take it positively. What I want to assure those in the civil service is that staff rationalisation is a normal process of running organisations. This is happening every day in the private sector. It is important, however, to note that for the rationalisation to have the desired national impact, government must also work on addressing the revenue side. Government needs to create the right business environment for both local and foreign investors to run profitable businesses without hindrance.
Government, through the national budget, has ordered the freezing of all recruitment for all non-essential posts. This is a sound strategy for government. However, for this to have the maximum impact, government must go a step further and circulate all non-essential posts where recruitment will not happen should there been attrition in those posts. This makes it easy to administer. If the discretion to classify posts as essential and non-essential is left to the line ministries it is very likely that inconsistencies will be noted. Government must just ask every department to submit all posts classified as essential and non-essential. Government must not end there. Government must work on a proper workforce planning for the next five years. The plan must be based on overall government strategy to deliver economic recovery to the nation.
The worrying point already noted in the budget is “Notwithstanding this Government policy stance, Treasury continues to receive requests to fill vacant posts across the board, which would impose unbudgeted additional requirements to the wage bill.” This statement in the budget indicate a problem for the government. To avoid such request the government as part of the workforce planning process must carry out workload analysis of very government employee for a full month. The results of the study is very likely to show that there are some people who are overworked while others are barely utilised. This will enable the government to align roles and focus on high value adding roles. Where we have done such studies in the private sector, the results have been revealing and presented opportunities for the government to save money. Besides saving money this study will allow the government to get value for every dollar paid to staff.
The move to retire all staff above 65 years is commendable for three reasons. It’s very likely that some of these people are already tired and may not be giving their best at that age. They are likely to be out of touch with recent technological developments and innovation trends thereby bringing inefficiencies in government. These people who are supposed to have retired but have gone beyond the retirement age clog the talent pipeline, thereby preventing young people from joining the civil service. The government should be the largest employer of our graduates from local universities. Most government departments are manned by very tired and old people who should be resting at home. All the effected employees will be assisted as they manage the transition from employment to other ventures.
Government has also proposed voluntary retirement. For the same reasons given above, this is a very noble move. Instead of ending at voluntary retirement, they should extend this to voluntary retrenchment. I am sure there are a number of civil servants who are ready to leave public service if they are given a package. The private sector is using the same method. This will significantly reduce headcount to manageable and sustainable levels.
Government’s decision to abolish the Youth Officer role is commendable as there has been no significant role they were playing. The fact that this was done with immediate effect means that the government will realise the savings immediately. The close to $20 million savings per annum can be used to buy drugs for hospitals or fund other essential government programs.
Over and above the Youth Service 528 public service employees without relevant qualifications will also be retired. The big lesson here is how did these people get jobs in the first place? This is a mistake that should never be allowed to recur. Depending on when they were hired, government, I am sure, has lost millions of dollars paying unqualified people. The number of Ministers has also been reduced realising significant savings. The government may need to review the whole civil service recruitment process and align it with modern trends.
Other measures which the government has just started implementing which were long implemented in the private sector is the rationalisation of fuel benefit. The private sector rationalised all benefits soon after dollarisation. The fact that the circular rationalising fuel has not been made public makes it is difficult to comment on how reasonable the new levels are in relation to the private sector. My hope is that they are far below what is paid in the private sector.
The move on personal issue vehicles is another commendable move by the government. Fully expensed vehicles have always been problematic even in the private sector mainly due to abuse resulting in huge costs for the employer.
In the private sector employers have negotiated with banks for their employees to access loans to buy vehicles. The loan agreement if between the employee and the bank and the employer is only a facilitator. If the government follows this private sector model when handling loans, they will not lose a single cent. My recommendation is that the government must go all the way with this policy up to ministers. If members of parliament can be given loans to buy vehicles, what is special about cabinet ministers. This move will uplift the moral of every civil servant. The government must negotiate with banks on behalf of their employees so that they can access loans. As already said, this must cover every employee who previously benefited from a personal issue vehicle including ministers.
Other austerity measures such as reducing the size of delegations to international and regional fora and travelling economy class for most civil servants is commendable. The group of people who have been allowed to travel business class is no special class at all. If the President has reduced his luxury when travelling why can’t ministers, Heads of Ministries and equivalent grades, parastatals’ chief executive officers, local authorities’ mayors, town clerks, chief executive officers, and constitutional commissioners go economy class considering they are so many of them and they love travelling.
The rationalisation of foreign missions is commendable and must be done within the context of the whole civil service reforms. All this must be done within a scientifically driven workforce plan for government which I strongly recommend the government to put together.
The development and operationalisation of a scientifically developed workforce plan will help the government to address other areas I feel have been omitted. I strongly feel other government departments are overstaffed for the volume of work they are handling. There is also a possibility that there are too many managers and management layers within government departments. These two areas if objectively assessed will provide further opportunities for government to rationalise their staffing levels. Further headcount reduction can be achieved if the government targets poor performers for retrenchment.
The future looks bright for the government if they implement the austerity measures and continuously look for other opportunities to make the civil service more efficient such as leveraging on technology.
Memory Nguwi is an occupational psychologist, data scientist, speaker, & managing consultant — Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd a management and human resources consulting firm. https://www.linkedin.com/in/memorynguwi/Phone +263 4 481946-48/481950/2900276/2900966 or cell number +263 77 2356 361 or email: email@example.com or visit our website at www.ipcconsultants.com