Why CS Moses’ Kuria’s suggestion on contracting public servants is impractical

Public Service CS Moses Kuria. His suggestion to convert civil servants to contract workers is untenable.

The announcement by the Cabinet Secretary for Public Service, Performance and Delivery Management Moses Kuria that the government is seriously contemplating converting the terms of service of public servants on permanent and pensionable category to contractual employment is extremely shocking for several reasons.

First, this is a direct response to the ongoing strike by personnel in the medical services sector that have raised several grievances against the Ministry of Health and the county governments on their terms and conditions of service.

This means that the idea may not have been thought through at the highest policy-making levels that should discuss such monumental decisions.

Secondly, it raises questions like whether the policy shift was in the cards all along – including when Kuria had not joined the ministry. If so, is it in the strategic plan of the ministry? If so, how come it is just now that the task force is being established to advise the government on the matter when it could have been established earlier?

Thirdly, it is shocking because well performing Cabinet Secretaries are expected to work behind closed doors with their subordinates and advisors on serious policy matters of this magnitude and only go public when new policy directions have been concretized or when public participation is required but not at the level of expression of intent.

But what is the genesis of this matter? The Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) has made it public that the public service wage bill, standing at 43 per cent of annual revenue, is unsustainable and should be reduced to 35 per cent by the year 2028.

The SRC itself has not given a clear roadmap on how this feat would be achieved. This has led to a situation in which the Cabinet members and other senior government officials are issuing what could turn out to be personal opinion rather than policy statements.

The proposal to reduce the retirement age of civil servants and teachers to 55 years and that of making savings through sacking of employees with fake certificates in addition to this concept of contractual employment are some of the ideas being thrown around.

The first proposal won’t make much impact on the wage bill because those that will be retired will have to be replaced, especially in the teaching service that is experiencing a shortage of teachers already.

Sacking of employees with fake certificates would ordinarily be a straightforward matter since it is a criminal matter that should be handled by the employer alone or through the courts of law.

However, when the Deputy President said that it is a very complicated matter that only the President can handle and the President says that those involved should be given one year to exit their jobs, one gets the impression that the well laid out procedures of handling such cases are being overlooked.

This is a matter that spoils the image of the country and should be handled without much fanfare so that observers locally and abroad will notice that due process of handling it is being followed.

But it is the idea of employment of staff on contractual terms that is most controversial of all. The public service is already riddled with corruption during employment, deployment and promotion of staff. There is also the unfortunate alleged problem of gender harassment that starts right from “sex for marks” in the universities through to employment and promotions.

The introduction of contractual employment would mean that staff will serve on, say, three year contracts that can be renewed or terminated on the basis of performance. What would stop bosses extorting monetary favours of their juniors in order to have their contracts renewed? Haven’t we heard of these complaints already especially in the extension of contracts for Chief Executive Officers of Parastatals even though they are mentioned in low tones? And would these contracts be applied to the police and the military? If so, what would be consequences in terms of their performance?

This is not the first time that the Ministry of Public Service is fumbling due to pressure brought about by agitation for higher remuneration. Way back in 1999, the pressure to honour the 200 per cent salary increase to teachers hit the government hard, especially since there was no such commitment to other public servants.

Then Minister for Public Service William Ntimama and Permanent Secretary James Ongwae prepared a Cabinet paper through which they proposed that over 66,000 teachers be retrenched to contain the wage bill. This was countersigned by the Minister of Finance Simon Nyachae.

The Cabinet approved it and directed that this move be presented to the National Assembly through the 1999/2000 Finance Bill that was passed by the legislators. It took the intervention of the TSC through the World Bank-that had pushed the government to retrench public servants in the first place – to reverse this decision.

It would have been disastrous to retrench these teachers since the demand for them rose soon after that when free education was introduced in the country in the year 2003.

The proposal by Moses Kuria should be seen in a similar vein. It is purely and simply an impulsive reaction to the doctors’ strike and the SRC proposal. Other ways of containing the wage bill should be contemplated.

Margaret Mead once said that “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”.

Let us hope that the Cabinet, under President William Ruto, is that kind of group that will have the wisdom to reject the proposal from Moses Kuria.


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