Civil servants could face job losses in new changes

Treasury CS Henry Rotich leaves for Parliament Buildings to read the budget on June 13, 2019. (David Gichuru, Standard)
The job security afforded to an estimated one million public servants working on permanent and pensionable basis will be cancelled from July this year by a new tool of measuring performance at the workplace.

The tool, which will be introduced by the Public Service Commission (PSC), dismantles the notion that as long as a permanent and pensionable worker does not violate any law, they can laze around and wait for their pension upon attaining the age of 60.

Sylvester Obong’o, the head of Research and Policy Analysis at the PSC, said Kenya has lagged behind because of dismal performance of some public servants and this must now be reformed.

He said that for a long time, Kenya’s civil service has stuck to the same old ways of doing things even when they are illogical so as not upset the status quo.

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Dr Obong’o, who is spearheading the reforms, explained that from July, all the 70,000 civil servants will be subjected to performance contracts.

“Those who will not achieve the set targets will have to relinquish their positions.

“For a long time, there has been a notion in the civil service that as long as a worker was employed on permanent and pensionable basis, they could get away with lacklustre performance,” he said.

Not retrenching

There was apprehension among the workers and Union of Kenya Civil Servants that performance contracts would lead to massive job cuts, as happened in the past when the government, on the advice of World Bank and IMF, retrenched thousands of public servants.

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Stressing that public service must be guided by strategic planning, Obong’o recalled an incident in his early days of public service.

“One day, I was part of a secretariat in a task force which had carried out sensitive parliamentary work.

“The members were supposed to travel to Mombasa to prepare a report.

“Since I was a very junior officer, my job did not entitle me to fly and I had to be given a car, a driver and some imprest to travel,” he said.

At the end of the day, the official’s trip to Mombasa cost the government more than Sh70,000 although he could have been flown to Mombasa at a cost of only Sh3,000.

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Such wastage was occasioned by following the due process which dictated following the old ways.

“We are not retrenching people. The government too has not set aside any finances as retirement package for those who will be affected by poor performance because recruitment is not a budgetary issue,” Obongo said.

While acknowledging that some people may lose their jobs, the official added: “The government does not owe anybody any job, but it owes everybody a service.

“The public service should therefore not be seen as an employment bureau. It must deliver effective services to the citizens.”   

After performance contracts are implemented among the civil service, PSC will then embark on the rest of public servants who too will be required to earn their keep by achieving measurable goals agreed upon with the employer.  

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At the same time, PSC is pursuing a new policy where all new recruits in the civil service will be on contract.

Short-term contracts

“We want to ensure that the government, and by extension the tax payer, gets value for money.

“By engaging the employees on short-term contracts, we will ensure that they do their best instead of carrying out their duties routinely because they would ultimately get their retirement benefits,” Obong’o added.

And as the performance contracts near, the shock waves of the reforms in the public service have started being felt in the public universities.

Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha has already instructed all the 31 public universities to formulate staff rationalisation plans.

There are 28,000 employees in the public universities, a number the government feels is too high and is gobbling up most of the resources disbursed to the institutions of higher learning.

Last week, PSC chairman Simon Kirogo announced that from next month, all civil servants will start contributing towards the superannuation scheme.

In the new scheme of things, all civil servants below the age of 45 years will contribute 7.5 per cent of their pay while the government will contribute double the employee’s contribution, to ensure that each month, a worker will pay 22.5 per cent of their salary.

Among other drastic measures being introduced by the government is the removal of the system used in promotion of civil servants.

According to the current system, a civil servant must serve in one job group for three years before they can be considered for promotion.

“In the past, promotion of high-performing civil servants was frustrated because they had not served in the same group for three years.

“This has in the past caused gaps in senior positions because when a vacancy occurred some deserving officers were overlooked,” Kirogo said. 

Best performance

“We want to have best performance as the only measure for promotions. We want to ensure that we do things differently, we must have an efficient and strategic thinking public service,” Obong’o said.

Although Kenyans have been socialised to believe that the private sector was the driver of the economy, Obong’o said the public service the world over was the determinant of the country’s progress.

“Look at all the progressive countries, the public service is the main driver that trigger growth in the economy.

“This has been tried and tested and therefore for us, emphasis will be on the efficiency of service delivery to Kenyans,” he said.

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