The Imo State governor, Rochas Okorocha, recently introduced a three-day per week schedule to enable the government to cut salaries. The civil servants are expected to work for three days in a week, from Monday to Wednesday, while Thursdays and Fridays are to be spent working on their farms. The fundamental reasoning behind this new policy is to enable the state to reduce cost and be in a position to pay its workers. It is part of the larger effort of the state government to increase its internally generated revenue and diversify its economy. The suggestion that the workers should spend the two non-working days farming is to enable them to attend to other activities that would generate money to supplement their monthly salaries.
A major assumption of this reduction of the working week is that workers are redundant or under employed. In other words, there are just too many civil servants for the job to be done by the civil service. When there was sufficient revenue, government was willing to accommodate them. But now that the government is broke, it is unwilling to lay off redundant workers and has opted to reduce their working days.
However, the government has not explained how it is going to redesign the manning of responsibilities in such a way as to make more civil servants to work in fewer days. Merely reducing the working days may mean that those who are fully engaged will get overwhelmed while those who are redundant remain so. In other words, the reduction of working days must be accompanied by a redesigning of the way the civil service works to achieve value for money. Otherwise, it may be a recipe for confusion. The government has said the reduction will not affect those in essential services, and those in sectors that are understaffed, like teachers in the secondary schools. A similar effort to ensure value for money in the current austere times accounts for the proposal of the Oyo State government to restructure the public service and redeploy staff.
In general, the state governments are coming to terms with the bloated character of their public services. The public service of the Federal Government is also arguably bloated. But the problem is more complicated than that. A review of the quantum and quality of public service delivery across the three levels of government shows that there is a huge gap in service provisioning that needs to be filled. There is so much work to be done but the civil service does not have the requisite competence, neither is it able to extract the revenue needed to deliver those services. Thus, if the right people with the appropriate skills had been employed, the current sorry situation would have been avoided. Thus, merely reducing the working days or even the number of public servants may not lead to improvement. That is why in the lexicon of administrative reform, there is downsizing and right sizing. The former is concerned with disengaging workers that are not needed. The latter is about employing the appropriate number with the required skills.
It is commendable that the various governments are beginning to take the civil service more seriously. They are beginning to think out creative ways of dealing with the fiscal crisis that has arisen from the fall in the price of oil in the international market as it relates to the public service. However, they must go beyond looking at public servants as a drain on the public purse. They must see them as citizens that must be made productive. They must see the service as a tool with which government meets the needs of the people. To achieve this, the government should not just assume that all civil servants would be interested in farming. It must work out a training programme for those who may want to disengage from the public service to engage in more rewarding and fulfilling occupations. Those who may volunteer to go or may not be needed in the service must be paid their entitlements to encourage them to go.
In particular, the nation’s public primary and secondary schools need civil servants that have the requisite academic qualifications. In this connection, those willing to take up teaching appointments should be allowed to do so with commensurate pay. Where the civil servants possess degrees but no teaching certificates, they should be retrained before being drafted into the classrooms, and exposed to regular on-the-job trainings, seminars and conferences to fine-tune their skills.
Besides, politicians must recognize their role in overburdening the public service with unqualified and redundant people in their bid to dispense patronage. This partly accounts for the unsustainable huge wage bills that they are faced with. Finally, since civil servants do not disproportionately enlarge the burden of bills the government carries in relation to political office holders, the number of political office holders and their remuneration need to be reviewed downwards.