Kenya: As the country ponders on how to reduce the runaway public sector wage bill, experts warn that unless corruption, bloated workforce and wastage within government are not addressed, the proposed pay cut could make little impact in rescuing the economy.
Skeptics and proponents of the ruling Jubilee alliance’s move to seek pay cut within the civil service to bridge the development deficit also raise the red flag that such a hurried decision would spark discontent and rebellion if politically motivated. They now want President Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration to address issues of grand corruption and massive wastage within government as long term measures to save for the government’s flagship projects. The President and his deputy William Ruto announced they will take a 20 per cent pay cut while the rest of the Cabinet will have their pay slashed by 10 per cent in a bid to bring down the ballooning wage bill. More than 50 per cent of the country’s income is spent on paying salaries for public servants. At Sh500 billion, the country’s public sector wage bill is the highest in the world. There are fears that the situation would be chronic in a few years, meaning no money for development.
Economic analyst Barrack Muluka says the symbolic gesture by the President and his deputy should be replicated across the board to ensure that the government minimises spending on non-priority areas such as entertainment and foreign travel while saving for investment projects to create jobs and spur economic growth. “If we talk about the President taking a 20 per cent pay cut, he should look around himself and ask how public funds are being spent and how the 20 per cent magic figure will come to play,” Muluka says. Cosmetic solution He says the gesture is a step in the right direction, arguing that the 20 per cent magical figure should be extended to allowances paid to state officers and special votes especially at the Office of the President. “If we talk about the President’s entertainment or travelling allowance, that gesture must be extended to those votes that if their funding is slashed, such cannot affect delivery,” Muluka proposed. But political analyst PLO Lumumba blames the President of seeking cosmetic solutions to what he describes as a more “cancerous problem”. “We are in a situation where chicken are coming home to roost. You cannot water the desert with a teaspoon. But the President, with whom the back stops, is prescribing a banned aid solution to a fundamental and cancerous problem,” he said PLO says the President must address the fundamental questions surrounding the burgeoning public sector wage bill with fundamental solutions to save the face of the country from imminent meltdown.
The former Anti-corruption czar says part of the remedies to the economic problems lie in adopting prescriptions of the Institute of Economic Affairs’ recommendations made in 2001. In their publication dubbed “Kenya at Crossroads”, the institute put forward steps to address issues of economic stagnation. Bloated workforce
“We know what the problem is but we are not ready to deal with it, and confront the fanning catalysts of what has turned to be a ridicule of the world’s most devastating wage levels in a low income earning country,” PLO said. Muluka avers that the government’s failure to address the bloated workforce within departments and ministries was largely to blame for the burgeoning wage bill. He lamented that although the government cut down the number of ministries from the all high of 42 to 18, the downsizing did not reciprocate with the restructuring of government. “The change at the top was rather cosmetic. Super structures and sub structures remain essentially the same with some six people doing the same job that can be done by one person,” he said. He said the country had not thought through the architecture of devolution, an issue he avers has added to the baggage evolved the country has. PLO, a constitutional expert, regrets that the drafters of the Constitution delivered to Kenyans a mutilated document that provided for a number of offices which have turned to be a nightmare for the country.
He says the political elite hijacked the constitutional making process at conception and ended up writing a document that overburdened the taxpayer. “We played politics with the constitution. We thought devolution was a good thing but when the political class met in Naivasha and took the view that we needed to replicate 47 county governments and nominate 400 MCAs, we committed Original Sin,” he says. National debate This is a concern shared by Turkana South MP James Lomenen Ekonwa who says the drafters of the Constitution failed to tell Kenyans the monetary cost in the implementation of devolution. “We could have been told how much it could take to pay the new offices created under the new Constitution so that Kenyans could carry out a comparative analysis of the costs before deciding whether they would adopt devolution or not,” he told The Standard on Sunday. He also proposes that the provincial administration should be abolished to cut down on the wage bill. “We have five or six people doing the same job that can be done by one person. We do not see the meaning of DCs and DOs when the county governments have posted sub-county and ward administrators,” he said.