Honourable folks, government recently succumbed to pressure from some sections of the public service to employ more people and promote those who have served for a long time without getting promotions.
To a certain extent, one might be inclined to agree with government to grant the civil servants’ demands. No one can in his right argue against promoting an employee who has faithfully served Malawians for 10 years.
Working in one position for over a decade would take a psychological and emotional toll on even the best employees. Let alone civil servants, who are relatively underpaid compared to their peers working in the private sector.
Folks, the ladies and gentlemen in the civil service are simply seeking promotions to close the gap to their counterparts elsewhere. A promotion usually comes with improved remuneration and benefits. No one should really fault civil servants for demanding that.
And the mass recruitments were necessary, considering the reported vacancies in the civil service. The vacancy rate in government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) ranges between 20 percent and 43 percent.
The vacancy rate has the potential to undermine public service delivery or cripple government agencies’ capacity to provide oversight on the government.
In that regard, Capitol Hill has done a commendable job to fill some of these vacancies. All things equal, it should improve efficiency in the civil service.
But folks, these mass recruitments and promotions have come with a caveat. They have piled pressure on the national wage bill, and if not managed properly, could have some unfortunate spill-over effects on the national economy.
According to the Mid-Year Budget Review, government has already spent K226.2 billion, or 51 percent, of the K443.4 billion wage bill approved by Parliament in the 2019/20 National Budget.
On current evidence, it is safe to assume that government is likely to face a budget deficit. If government overspent in the first half of the financial year prior to the mass recruitment and promotion and exercise, it will definitely overspend now after adding more people to its payroll and promised to pay existing employees more.
Overexpenditure is likely to plunge government into more debt and undermine Capitol Hill’s performance in the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) Extended Credit Facility (ECF) programme.
It is important to note that government’s K443.4 billion wage takes up 24.6 percent of the National Budget, which is currently valued at K1.8 trillion. That is 4.6 percentage points higher than the 20 percent threshold recommended by the IMF.
Folks, Capitol Hill will have to tread carefully to ensure that the gains made recruiting and promoting civil servants will not cause negative ripple effects in other aspects of the national economy.
Government will have to make sure that the mass recruitment, particularly in the health sector, are properly cushioned by the coronavirus (Covid-19) relief fund.
Considering that government recruited more health workers to help contain the spread of Covid-19, it is only fair that government uses the billions of donations it has received from global financial institutions and other bilateral donor to combat the respiratory infection.
That would ensure that the increased spending arising from the need to combat Covid-19 is offset by increased donations to government. With proper accounting and control measures, recruitment in the health and other sectors directly linked to containing Covid-19 will not add additional strain on the National Budget.
Folks, it is also important that the increased recruitment in MDAs target areas that would increase their performance.
For a long time, we have heard complaints from the Attorney General’s office and ACB that they underperform because they do not have members of staff with requisite qualifications and experience to work modern and dynamic job market.
Government would do well to ensure that the mass recruitment is used to fill these positions to improve their efficiency.
Likewise, the mass promotions should target sectors that were deemed to offer uncompetitive conditions of service in relation to the private sector to attract and retain staff in institutions that require specialised technical and professional competencies.
Folks, a public service filled with the best professional staff who are properly remunerated would ensure improved performance and better public service delivery.
Having the best technocrats in government parastatals such as MHC and Escom and Water Boards would also boost their capacity to generate revenue for government; hence, create more opportunities to employ more people without straining the budget.
Government just needs to be strategic in its thinking.