Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Botswana considering big changes in the public service

The Botswana government may be finally heeding the advice from multinational corporations that have called for the downsizing of the public service, with this week president Mokgweetsi Masisi giving the strongest indication that they will be reforms to the public service.

On a Saturday public address, Masisi zeroed in on government workers, announcing that they will be a  deeper scrutiny at the key tool of governance and delivery, which he said was the public service, that has become a stumbling block due to implementation failures that seemed to have become a norm in the post-90s period. 

“We have to measure our own labours as an elected leadership, to enact laws that empower and provide a roadmap of delivery to the anxious electorate. When we do that, when we reflect, we discover that there is a direct correlation between the quality of the public service texture of the high economic growth rates of post- independence to the 90s, and the degradation of the public service of the post-90s with the much lower growth rates of the economy in the last 30 years,” Masisi said. 

The president upped the ante when he said the political leadership for the last 30 years has increasingly fallen into the clutches of an underperforming public service that has grown more robust in obstruction than in productivity. 

“We find an evolving culture of a democratically elected but increasingly pliable political leadership of the last three decades, held to ransom by groups of abrasive technocrats in low-productivity mode, albeit with rising incidences of corruption,” charged the president. 

Masisi revealed that his transformational agenda will come with significant government reforms in the public service, likely to include reduction of government workers and associated benefits.

Botswana’s share of the budget spent on wages has been a key concern from developmental partners such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank Group, urging the diamond dependent country to reduce the government size and the wage bill. However, with a weak private sector, which itself is dependent on government expenditure, and complaints of stagnated wages, the country’s finance ministry found itself drawn in political expediency. 

In the past two years, the wage bill has increased by over 20 percent, with much of the increase happening last year. President Masisi’s administration waltzed to electoral victory in the October 2019 elections after appeasing government workers, bumping their salaries by 10 percent in 2019, just before the elections, with another 6 percent promised this year. 

The Fiscal reforms that have been suggested so far by government involve restructuring the public service, which accounts for the largest formal employment in a country that is battling with soaring unemployment. The country’s civil service wage bill increased in the lead up to the 2019 general elections, and is now nearing P30 billion annually, representing around 53 percent of the recurrent budget. 

Already, the Botswana government has since abolished 50 percent of vacant positions, in value, beginning of April.

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