The government seems to have decided to try a new approach to ramp up the efficiency and speed at which civil servants deliver services.
The government wants to employ all new civil servants on contract basis rather than the permanent and pensionable terms that have been part and parcel of the civil service. This is a monumental shift!
The Public Service Commission (PSC), the body that hires civil servants, seems to have decided that tinkering with the problem by pussyfooting around it, as has been the case with various attempts to reform the civil service over the years, has failed,and only drastic measures can stir this behemoth from its lethargy.
PSC chairman, Stephen Kirogo, has emphatically said that civil service reform must be “brutal,” if the country wanted change. It seems the civil service could finally be in for a real shake-up that will remove the cobwebs of complacency, and sheer lethargy that has characterised it for years.
Concerns about the productivity of the civil service are not new, and there have been various attempts over the years to try and restructure how it works to boost productivity. What is the scorecard of the civil service?
A huge and growing unemployment problem in Kenya points to failed policies, either in terms of design or execution. One can remember how programmes like National Youth Service (NYS) youth programme orKazi kwa Vijana, meant to provide training and employment for youth, were botched and finally scrapped.
A sick health system that continues to struggle badly to provide medical services to Kenyans. The sum total of civil servants who work as medical providers in health institutions, as well as those who regulate the sector, have long been criticised for sloth, being insensitive, corruption and sheer incompetence.
The country continues to experience a massive waste of resources through corruption and wastage by civil servants. There are those who go to the extent of putting together projects to facilitate embezzlement of Government resources, with little impact on the lives of Kenyans whom they serve.
The government continues to struggle to raise funds for development through taxes, but perennially faces huge shortfalls in its targets, driven by fraud and corruption of civil servants employed to assess and collect taxes.
One could go on and on. All these point to a civil service that seems to have lost its vision and mission- or never understood it in the first place- and that is requiring a lot of work to rectify.
Critically, the civil service needs to understand the central importance of its role, and how its failure to perform has led to perpetuation of the problems that continue to bedevil the country.
It is this failure to grasp the centrality of their role to the country’s development that led the vice chairman of the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC), Dalmas Otieno, to state that he was embarrassedthat civil servants do not feel responsible for the high unemployment in the country. In other words, they are blind to the nexus between the failures to do their jobs effectively, and its impact on growing unemployment.
That procurement officer in a ministry who subverts a tender to inflate it and award it corruptly to receive kickbacks does not see his or her contribution towards the massive corruption in the country that has sapped government of resources.
The performance contracting that was introduced some years ago must be revamped and strengthened. Any civil servant with supervisory mandates anywhere in the system must be put under a performance contract.
The system must also be enhanced to include ways of bringing personal accountability and liability to civil servants. One of the greatest drawbacks of the civil service performance is that many feel protected under the umbrella of government.
Retraining is indispensable. The complete failure to see that their work is what drives everything in the country from jobs, to services, to protection of consumers from rogue businesses, to facilitating thriving businesses is one of the biggest drawbacks to moving the civil service from the current rut to a facilitator and accelerator of the economy.
This also means that some might be so steeped in the bad old ways they can never change, and will become an immovable obstacle on the road to transformation. These must be retrenched.
Mindset change is the most decisive parameter needed to change the civil service. It is the fulcrum around which the wheels of a reformed civil service will turn.