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There is an instant solution to downsize the civil service and to give graduates jobs

There is an instant solution to downsize the civil service and to give graduates jobs

At a finance ministry meeting earlier this year, the minister made some remarks regarding their efforts to downsize the civil service. He commented on statements made by the GIPF in Opuwo where the fund’s chairman stated in so many words that not a single civil service employee will be forced to take early retirement.

Several of the minister’s responses were quite revealing. First, he indicated that early retirement is certainly one of the considerations to reduce the civil service. Secondly, he made it very clear that the GIPF is not the government, and thirdly, he let slipped that the 2% per annum reduction target by natural attrition, was “very ambitious.”

This last, almost off the cuff, remark, is what caught my attention. The minister was telling us directly, although he used quasi-economic jargon, that they have not managed to reduce the civil service by 2% per year in 2017 and 2018. In that same meeting, he also recited the stats on what the civil service costs the government. I remember that he said that if all the benefits are counted, the civil service corps consumes 73% of government expenditure. Wow!, That is a painful revelation.

The initial announcement to reduce the size of the civil service was made at the end of 2016 at the last press conference the minister had with the local media. In this meeting he tried to convey a message of reassurance, less than a month after he slammed the brakes hard on the government’s full-speed gravy train.

If the minister stated that the 2% target was very ambitious, then I take it the inference is that it has proven unrealistic, although he did not say so explicitly. Eventually, what was discussed faded away, turning into a semi-non-event since the first quarter GDP figures came out shortly after that meeting and I’m sure the minister was just as disappointed as everyone else that the first and second volleys he released on the local economy, have not produced the desired results.

In the meantime, industrial action, although not actually happening that I am aware of, has loomed at various ministries but especially at a number of parastatals. This type of attitude always confounds me. When it is obvious to any person that the government is in dire straits, and when it is equally obvious that it has no immediate plans to retrench or retire, how is it possible that people who still have guaranteed employment and income, can press up for wage increases.

Of course, the public service union plays a major part in all of this. I mean, somehow the union bosses must keep their followers, showing some sign of power over the unfortunate employer, in this case the government.

Pondering the opposing dynamics working on civil service employment, I happen to read an old report of last year when a survey commissioned by the higher education ministry, revealed the shocking fact that 67,000 graduates are out of work, never having been able to secure a position since the day they completed their studies.

A huge penny dropped. Slowly I started to realise we have the ultimate solution to our civil service problem in the form of another problem. By using the one to fix the other, we can make both go away.

This is when I hit on the brilliant idea to fire anybody and everybody who threatens industrial action summarily on disciplinary grounds, and to appoint one graduate in the place of every two civil servants fired, at half the income. The message must be very clear: – if you want to strike, you’re out.

This will immediately relieve the finance ministry of its biggest headache, it will remove thousands upon thousands of useless deadwood in the civil service, and it will give Namibia a fresh, updated, educated civil service where each of the new appointees, I am sure, will be able to do the work of two “older” civil servants, at only 50% of the cost. It will also give instant employment to a very large army of despondent graduates who thought they will never find a job.

Only one small insignificant hurdle remains but I am sure we can work around that by appointing an outside consultant, a hatchet man so to speak.

The problem I foresee, is “Who’s got the guts to do it?”

Before you say ‘nobody’, think about this way. If the government’s expenditure commitment to civil servants is reduced to 35% of total expenditure in a flash, then within a few months this economy will burst out of its seams. And if the youngsters take a few weeks to master their new jobs, nobody will notice since their predecessors were not known, either for their ingenuity or their industry.


About The Author

Daniel Steinmann

Educated at the University of Pretoria: BA (hons), BD. Postgraduate degrees in Philosophy and Divinity. Publisher and Editor of the Namibia Economist since February 1991. Daniel Steinmann has steered the Economist as editor for the past 32 years. The Economist started as a monthly free-sheet, then moved to a weekly paper edition (1996 to 2016), and on 01 December 2016 to a daily digital newspaper at It is the first Namibian newspaper to go fully digital. He is an authority on macro-economics having established a sound record of budget analysis, strategic planning and assessing the impact of policy formulation. For eight years, he hosted a weekly talk-show on NBC Radio, explaining complex economic concepts to a lay audience in a relaxed, conversational manner. He was a founding member of the Editors' Forum of Namibia. Over the years, he has mentored hundreds of journalism students as interns and as young professional journalists. From time to time he helps economics students, both graduate and post-graduate, to prepare for examinations and moderator reviews. He is the Namibian respondent for the World Economic Survey conducted every quarter for the Ifo Center for Business Cycle Analysis and Surveys at the University of Munich in Germany. Since October 2021, he conducts a weekly talkshow on Radio Energy, again for a lay audience. On 04 September 2022, he was ordained as a Minister of the Dutch Reformed Church of Africa (NHKA). Send comments or enquiries to [email protected]