Do not “economize” ordinary workers, get rid of the excess at the top
By Josef Kefas Sheehama.
The government has buckled under pressure and plans to retrench civil servants to cut its wage bill as it struggles to pay its 107 000 employees. The plan is to transform the public service and offer effective services at both levels of government.
The government wage bill typically accounts for a large share of total public spending, and thus, often constitutes a key component of fiscal consolidation strategies in response to economic crises.
Generally, reforms to reduce the wage bill encompass different types of measures focused on compensation, employment, and the institutional framework to help deliver deep and sustainable wage bill adjustments. The reform strategy is country-specific. However, retrenchment by its very nature is an indication of relative weakness and declining power, and thus retrenchment can have a deteriorating effect on people. It is likely this situation will drag on for a long time. The only factor that could affect a significant change is if the government runs out of money. When civil servants are not paid, there is often a big social impact. There are strikes, a refusal to work, and detrimental effects on social services.
But the people, who are supposed to receive those services, suffer the most. The country is often plunged into pain. There are things in the civil service that do need to change. It is perfectly legitimate to question whether the civil service’s structure provides the right amount of accountability for senior officials. The government basically has to abolish unnecessary spending instead of retrenching civil servants. I’m not sure how efficient that would be.
Therefore, in an environment of high unemployment, persistent poverty, weak economic growth, and shrinking fiscal resources Namibia cannot afford to economize civil servants.
To revive our economy which is critical, we need to do away with deputy ministers, and governors and eliminate zombie State-Owned Enterprises (SOE) as well as cut ministers. Scrap deputy ministers as this is a duplication and they are redundant for the civil service to function. Why do we need deputy ministers? Do we even know who they are? For those who do not know, they are deputy ministers, enjoying all the VIP perks and sizeable salaries that come with the job. They are apparently here to serve us, even if we did not know it. The shocking truth is that the president is not constitutionally obliged to appoint even one deputy minister. It is clear that there is a duplication of functions among ministers, their deputies, and Executive Directors which does not augur well for the proper functioning of government. The mony being spent on these deputies, if put together, could build more health centRes and educational institutions in many deprived communities in the country than one can imagine. Similarly, the resources being paid to our deputy ministers could fund many development programmes that could absorb hundreds if not thousands of our deprived youths in gainful employment, thereby easing tension around the employment situation in the country.
Furthermore, why do we need governors, councils, and mayors? Scrap governors, and keep councils and mayors. They must perform or give jobs to those who are ready. This is total duplication which easily can cost the jobs of poor earned civil servants. Also, cut down on the number of ministers. There is no need to appoint many ministers, when only a few acceptable cabinet ministers are actually needed to decide on government policies. For any ministers to be relevant and to be able to assist in the evolution and determination of policies in their sectors, they must be cabinet ministers. The excess numbers must be cut off and that will significantly reduce public expenditure. Namibia needs a lean Cabinet made up of the right people who should ideally be technocrats. For example, there is no longer any justification for the finance minister to be given to an engineer with no history in the world of economics. Among other things, state enterprises and parastatals have to be commercialized or reformed without further delay and more importantly, real investment has to be attracted as opposed to Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).
Moreover, I regard this as an additional burden on the meager finances of the state, given the number of commitments the government has pledged to accomplish in the areas of roads, infrastructure, energy, health, and other strategic development projects. Indeed, the government is being too uneconomical in the midst of mass deprivation and I believe there is a need to scrap deputy ministries, and governors, loss-making SOEs, and reduce the number of ministers to avoid retrenchment for civil servants.
Even without introducing the need for harmonizing salaries, which is actually being misunderstood, there is a need to increase salaries for most civil servants in the lower ranks. Notwithstanding reserve capacity, a strike in public services is among those perceived as being the most disruptive of people’s daily lives. The cost of the strike will be higher the greater the weight of the particular services in the economic life of the country. In this respect, Namibia is especially vulnerable compared to its near neighbours, in that public services occupy a very important position both in terms of the number of employees and as a percentage of GDP.
Hence, as an Independent Economic and Business Researcher, I recommend that the next president establish a framework to enhance connectivity and visibility of innovation, including entrepreneurs, research institutions, business support entities, and investors to nurture and cultivate a vibrant entrepreneurial network. Adopting this route will prevent the loss of many jobs. There is often a significant fall in consumption and a loss of confidence in the future. Therefore, the main effort should go to improving industrial dialogue, which should involve users of public services, whose needs must be taken into account. The aim is to arrive at social harmony in which the freedom of some does not interfere unduly with that of others.
In conclusion, the next president needs to eliminate outdated and excessive capacity and dispose of inefficient SOEs amongst others. His administration should be aligned with the NDPs to enhance knowledge and address the gaps of inequality. In more ways than one, the 4IR is a solution and tool to be harnessed, so that the future of work is one that’s inclusive and beneficial for all.