Government has started working on plans to cut employment levels in the civil service to reduce fiscal pressures which has seen 80% of state revenues going towards payment of salaries and allowances.
The move to cut the number of government workers — estimated at 540 000 — has been met with trepidation by civil servants unions and civic activists who doubt government’s sincerity in wanting to cut costs.
They also see the redundancy of thousands of civil servants as increasing poverty levels in a country that has been plagued by de-industrialisation and retrenchments in the private sector.
On the other hand, there is scope in trimming the civil service as there is basically no money to pay government workers. Government’s annual revenues amount to US$4,1 billion of which US$3,3 billion is going to pay salaries, leaving a paltry US$800 million to support developmental work and operations.
The decision to retrench workers will however continue to be resisted and could be self-defeating if government fails to clearly come up with a transparent process that’s acceptable to the affected workers, but more importantly, one that ensures there is sustainability in its activities going forward.
An apparent blemish on the government’s plan is that the actual number of workers attached to ministries has never been revealed. The real structure of the civil service is not known. It has been reported that there are 140 000 workers in Education and 40 000 in the Health sector, but the actual size of the police force, the army and intelligence officers is not known.
The contentious issue of thousands of ghost workers allegedly hiding in the Youth ministry remains unresolved. There are allegations the ministry provides sheltered employment for Zanu PF activists and other non-state players.
It is important therefore, to publicise the civil service structure showing current manning levels in each ministry and the envisaged arrangement.
The staff rationalisation plan in the civil service cannot be achieved without remodelling the executive characterised by too many ministries which inevitably creates duplication of roles. The country needs a leaner government structure with clear milestones. The current structure is cumbersome and unsustainable.
There is no doubt there are ministries which are overstaffed with workers who are not adding value to service delivery and to national development. Key ministries of Health, Education and Agriculture have vacancies in critical positions which cannot be filled because government does not have the money, yet the same government is spending huge resources paying personnel in the military, police and intelligence.
Do we need so many soldiers and police in a country where there are 1,6 doctors for every 10 000 people.
This is an opportunity for government to show commitment to achieve greater efficiencies in the civil service to improve service delivery.