BALLOONING WAGE BILL

Ghost workers, duplication of roles and ‘consultants’ increasing public wage bill

Politics and business have ruined the management of public resources.

In Summary

• In so long as the public service is politicized, and reform processes are not directed at the gaps, we will always get it wrong. 

• It will equally be interesting to share data on how civil servants compare in terms of pay with colleagues doing the same jobs/functions in the private sector and whom they have similar qualifications.

SRC chairperson Lyn Cherop Mengich during a press conference on MPs' house allowances on May 15, 2019.
SRC chairperson Lyn Cherop Mengich during a press conference on MPs' house allowances on May 15, 2019.
Image: ENOS TECHE

The ballooning public wage bill debate is once more back on the national agenda, and as always, suggestions that public officers earn so much that they have become the major challenge to the country’s development.

We have been there so many times, and we will get the same results.

The lack of institutional memory or deliberate selective information leads to the wrong thing and for that, it will remain a populist idea.

Unless we are ready to deal with the issue of ghost workers in the public service, which cadre of public servants and officers earn with of the allowances for what and be ready to face the realities of the previous structural adjustment programmes and which results from such gave to taming the public wage bill, these are mere exercises.

In so long as the public service is politicized, and reform processes are not directed at the gaps, we will always get it wrong.

Were the results of the National Commission on ghost workers ever made public?

It will equally be interesting to share data on how civil servants compare in terms of pay with colleagues doing the same jobs/functions in the private sector and who have similar qualifications.

We have been here before: Remember, President and the Deputy President on March 10th, 2014 announced that they would each take a 20 per cent pay cut to bring down the wage bill.

The President then directed the cabinet to take a 10 per cent wage cut.

A National Wage Bill Dialogue was hosted by the Salaries and Remuneration Commission.

It seems this and related other government interventions on the issue have failed to yield fruits.

The problem lies in political appointees and top functionaries serving as consultants the power trappings that come with the offices and not necessarily the average public servant of officers.

Challenges cited as sources of the ballooning public wage bill in Kenya have been included waste and inefficiency, theft of funds through corruption and a high number of ghost/absentee ghost workers, loosely administered performance contracts and evaluation measures.

Others have included high pay discrepancies top civil servants and those at low cadres, inflated tender prices, poor record keeping, among others.

Deal with policies that allow mismanagement of resources such as the Public Procurement and Disposal Act, the Mwongozi policy guides on the composition and remuneration of boards members and commissioners serving on public bodies.

Others are duplication of functions by the National and County governments because of vested interests, deep involvement of the private sector in running public entities, and the hiring of too many advisors and consultants by many senior persons serving in the public sector.

Start with the dead and departed first, who most public institutions maintain on their payrolls- county governments, public universities and several ministries and agencies still pay a lot of absent workers- that if cleaned would save the exercises of allowances and related.

Just a few months ago, we were told how several people in public service could not retire because there are no replacements or had to be given contracts- several public agencies have so many people in acting capacities while sectors like health and education are hugely understaffed.

It is wrong for the Kenyans to continue portraying civil servants and public officers as good for nothing, corrupt happy individuals only interested in getting quick monies and earn allowances that they do not deserve.

We have very professional, hard-working and efficient officers in the public service; it is the politicisation of the hiring, promotion, posting and overall management of the public service that is the problem.

Politics and business have ruined the management of public resources and public servants have become the sacrificial lambs in the game. 

At one time during the Narc Government, the public service attracted some of the best brains and professionals who came with special perks, but it was not a major issue.

Remember the Kenyan public service won the country the United Nations Public Service Award in 2007 in recognition of their exemplary performance globally- the highest honour given by the UN to reward the creative achievements and contributions of public service and public institutions to a more effective and public responsive administration worldwide.

The winning of the global honours by the Kenyan public service came because of the work done under the Public Service Reform and Development Secretariat (PSR&D) within the Government as a desire by the Kibaki Administration to actualize the implementation of the Economic Recovery Strategy for Wealth Creation and Employment Creation strategy developed by the Government in early 2003 to guide their vision and road for steering the country.

We need to immediately depoliticise the public service including the board appointments and running of public bodies, minimise the hiring of consultants and advisors, and allowing merit to determine hiring and promotions in the public service align our national development goals/campaign promises with existing policy documents and budgets, minimize waste in Government through relooking the procurement and disposal of public goods and services.

In fact, with the third wave of Covid-19, the government needs to highly consider reducing some taxes on public servants and officers- it is a very big strain as they struggle in the vulnerable offices.

Several officers put in so many hours and risks, as they wait for Government quarterly disbursements but must meet their performance contract obligations and other state obligations.

A number are in arrears with their allowances while missing vouchers is standard practice in some offices.