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Hiring civil servants on contract will fuel corruption, experts say

COTU Coast region Secretary, Gideon Mutiso [centre] listens to members of Voice of Salvation healing church at Tudor in Mombasa on April 28, 2024. [Omondi Onyango, Standard]

The proposal to scrap permanent and pensionable positions in public service may not address the bloated wage bill, experts say.

Instead, such a decision may lead to poorer civil servants, particularly lower cadre staff. This is even as academic literature shows the possibility of improved services when employment terms are contractually compared to permanent and pensionable.

The proposal by Public Service Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria, which appears to be in retaliation to the demands from striking doctors, has already rattled several players in the public service and the political space among them Azimio representatives.

While not novel, the proposal has raised a lot of questions as experts in governance detailed to The Standard the possible ripple effects.

Javas Bigambo, a governance expert, states that while the CS’ proposal is noble, how it will be implemented will determine if it will solve the bloated wage bill.

“Beyond (the nobility), we run the risk of shaking up, tinkering with the public service in the country and this may unfortunately have some kind of a negative domino effect,” he says.

This shake-up and tinkering, he explains, is if the proposal ends up being implemented in a blanket with no regard for grades and salary scales or the sensitivity of some of the offices.

“If we are going to have blanket transitioning from permanent and pensionable to contractual, we have what we call essential services and critical offices or sectors. If we have them on contract, first we may not be happy with the outcome,” explains Mr Bigambo.

Such offices include the government pathologist, the police, the military and medics.

“What happens if we have them on short-term contracts, because we have not discussed the nature of these contracts yet. Is it 20 years, 10, five or two?” he posed.

These short term contracts, he adds, will further fuel corruption, especially in sensitive offices since the staff will know there is no guarantee of their terms being renewed.

He insists that this proposal should not be seen as the CS opinion or view because such pronouncements can have ripple effects on policy. Hence, a decision has to be made as the Government which should go beyond the Cabinet meeting as promised by Mr Kuria.

“We need a multi-stakeholder forum to discuss the necessities and consequences of this kind of policy. There must be public participation,” insists Mr Bigambo.

It will be chancier, he says, if lower cadre staff are to be included as well in the transition. He says there is no need to have a staff who makes Sh12,000 or Sh30,000 on contract since it interrupts their socio-economic life.

Addressing the doctors’ strike just days after the wage bill conference, CS Kuria insisted that the move to change employment terms in public service is not retaliation. 

Doctors have refused to accept Sh70,000 from the prescribed Sh206,000 as per their Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) of 2017.

He said one million public servants are consuming over 50 per cent of tax revenue, citing it as terribly wrong.

“That is why if the doctors think we are against them, I will be moving to the Cabinet to present a proposal which if approved, all national government workers, from drivers to cleaners, will be converted to contract,” he said.

Mr Bigambo’s argument is a staff who makes Sh50,000 does not affect the wage bill as such. The wage bill is affected largely by senior staff and particularly through allowances where individuals pocket even three times their monthly pay from one excursion out of the country.

This, he says, is what the CS should trim.

“If he (CS Moses Kuria) wants to persuade the country that he is concerned about the wage bill, let it be certain grades within the public service. The highest level, from for example grade S upwards. or any person earning Sh300,000 or Sh400,000 but not those earning Sh200,000 and below,” says Mr Bigambo.

He says those making less can improve their socio-economic status because financial institutions are willing to lend them money due to their permanent and pensionable terms which enables them to own property.

“We risk having more poor public servants and that increase in poverty is a temptation for corruption,” he says.

Additionally, converting terms of employment may even be more expensive for the government owing to the benchmark market rates of other employers like Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs).

“So are we going to pay public servants so high because the contracts are short and we need those essential services? If so, then what is the basis because the wage bill will be so high,” he says.

Diana Gichengo, the Executive Director, of the Institute for Social Accountability (Tisa) opines that what is missing in the performance of civil servants is good leadership and governance.

This is what should be enhanced while their current terms of employment are maintained.

“The current apathy, deal-making and corruption is in the image of leaders, including Cabinet and principal secretaries,” she says.

She notes that contracts for civil servants also affect the continuity of Government which is best safeguarded in civil service.

“Priority should be a purge of all ghost workers as highlighted in the Auditor General report over the years and also reward the civil servants who have remained loyal to the cause,” says Ms Gichengo.

If this proposal is implemented, there will no longer be competitive hiring as in addition to the bureaucracy, there is a likelihood of the civil service becoming highly political and biased which would be catastrophic.

“We have secured independent offices with security of tenure and so on; why would we deploy different standards for our civil service? This would have greater impacts on the lower carder who would face life and economic uncertainty,” she says.

Even as Ms Gichengo cites leadership and governance as factors in the quality of service, research shows positive changes when employment terms are contract-based.

One of these researches, Effect of Performance Contracting on Service Delivery at Municipal Council of Mombasa (2012) details improved public service for contract employees.

“The general impression of the report is that all the departments evaluated have registered remarkable improvement in terms of service delivery, in some instances doubling or tripling the various sectors output,” the research paper reads.

It adds: “For example, according to the report, revenue collection which stood at sh1.18 billion in 2007/2008 cycle improved to sh1.2 billion in 2008/2009 cycle then sh1.23 billion by 2010/2011 cycle.”

Another paper by Timothy Okech, Associate Professor of Economics, United States International University (USIU) titled Impact of Performance Contracting on Efficiency in Service Delivery in the Public Sector, also has the same conclusion and even recommends adoption in public institutions.

The paper published in 2017 by the International Journal of Economics, Commerce and Management, analysed selected national and county government entities to conclude.

“Performance contracting has brought about efficiency in the utilisation of resources in public organisations,” the paper reads.

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