There are mixed reactions to government’s decision to abolish posts of principal secretary (PS) II and III and designate the officers as chief directors but with no savings to the taxpayer. Some commentators argue the issues cannot be resolved overnight and others suggest retirement of excess staff.
Following the decision, the number of PSs in mainstream civil service has been reduced to less than 20, but the number of chief directors will likely be bloated.
In an interview on Monday, retired civil servant and longtime trade unionist, Eliah Kamphinda, dismissed the changes.
He said the better option would have been to retire prematurely those civil servants holding PS II and PS III posts as their continued presence would be cause for dissent.
But a human resource and industrial relations academic at Chancellor College, Professor Lewis Dzimbiri, has commended the demotion of PS II and PS III posts, observing that this would resolve squabbles over who is in control once the structure has been reformed.
He said: “The case in question is incremental as it is aimed at achieving one aspect after another. The financial aspect cannot be resolved instantly because we are dealing with a situation in which people are involved.
“For example, there are PSs who cannot be dismissed. Hence, what is happening here is an attempt to resolve structural issues first before addressing financial issues.”
Dzimbiri said reducing perks of former PSs to those of chief director could create morale problems and leave room for disgruntled employees.
“If the structure is accepted then it follows that those below should get lower than those above. It is also easier done for contractual positions because they can be re-negotiated. In any case, we are saying there are too many PSs and we are trying to resolve that problem. An employer can put forward revised conditions of service on the table and anyone who does not like them is free to resign,” he said.
Chris Chisoni, political and governance commentator, agreed with Dzimbiri that the ongoing reforms should not only be looked at from a monetary perspective alone, but also structural.
He said: “We had too many PSs that were doing nothing and it is right and proper for a good number of them to be redeployed. But it is obvious that those who benefited from the sick system cannot support this cause for reforming the public sector. It is unfortunate that clarity, objective analysis and truth can be ignored for the sake of individual gains. In any case, reforms must have a human face no matter what.”
In a statement announcing the changes, Chief Secretary to the Government George Mkondiwa said the restructuring was proposed by the Public Service Reforms Commission (PSRC) chaired by Vice-President Saulos Chilima.
He said there would be no financial implications on the changes but just structural changes to streamline reporting systems.
The structural changes come against a background of concerns over a large number of PSs, a development that caused inefficiencies in the public service while draining public coffers. At one point, Malawi had 91 PSs.
Civil Servants Trade Union (CSTU) general secretary Madalitso Njolomole, in an interview on Monday, said it was not possible to reduce salaries and benefits of the new chief directors even though their powers have been trimmed.
Mkondiwa is expected to issue a circular this week outlining changes and how they will be implemented for purposes of records.