Monday, April 12, 2021

Cutting the civil service down to size should be Khama’s priority No 1

It is entirely in order that when he ascends the throne in eight months time, Ian Khama should bring with him a new set of faces into the civil service.

Botswana’s civil service has never been known to attach any high premium to performance.

The situation has deteriorated over recent years, made worse by the fact that therein its jobs for life, with only those who have really lost favour with the Gods being shown the door.

The attitude of senior civil servants, especially at permanent secretary level, does not inspire public sympathy.

That is where Khama’s axe should first land before proceeding to the lower rungs.

In Botswana, the civil service offers easy money.
In other countries, those who aspire to live a life of splendour and luxury go into business; in Botswana they join the civil service.

The just appointed salaries commission is in keeping with such a wicked tradition.
Khama has a big challenge to change such a culture.

The best spot to start would be cutting off the top most heads.

That is where lies most of the rot.

Top civil servants in Botswana have failed to cover themselves with any form of dignity.

In fact, they have become the root of the problem.
Hence, cutting their heads will not cause any public outcry.

In any case, many of them are there by default, having been promoted because of their connections rather than abilities.

In a funny way, a few years back President Festus Mogae said the civil service was bloated.
He promised to cut it down to size.
How could he?

He is a product of the system, having worked his way up the ranks.

A ruthlessly determined outsider behaving like a hatchet man is what is needed to carry out this difficult but necessary undertaking.

Khama has the clout, energy and requisite popular approval to take them head on and win.

It may sound heinous, but it is absolutely necessary if the country is to be saved from collapsing under the weight of an increasingly irrelevant and unsustainable load of civil servants.

By its very nature, the civil service encourages red tape and corruption.

It stifles initiative and numbs the individual’s ambition to succeed.

Government’s fat procurement budget has become a fertile ground for their corrupt ways.

It is a vehicle through which they dish out contracts to themselves; a vehicle through which they spread their influence and patronage.

That is in addition to paying them too much for doing very little or, in some instances, nothing at all.

One minister recently complained to me that his permanent secretary cannot even stitch up a readable few sentences in a memo.

How pathetic!

Because the monthly salary is guaranteed, however mediocre the performance, the civil service has a funny way of encouraging a false sense of contentment and self importance among the cadres.

In Botswana the situation is worse because the senior civil servants have become extraordinarily powerful. So powerful that they are now going beyond their call to implement policy.

They are involved in the behind the scenes to draw the political landscape by way of influencing who is to be appointed into cabinet.

Khama has a duty to bring that to an end.
It is common knowledge that senior civil servants look down upon the people’s elected representatives in parliament.

It is no secret at the government enclave that many civil servants actively work to frustrate the projects of their supposed political masters.

Such is the power of the civil service in Botswana.
It has become a law unto itself and its chief priests are relishing every moment of it.
It’s time for change.

The tragedy for Botswana is that a big civil service, dishing out easy money means that a lot of talent needed by the economy elsewhere remains locked and unutilized inside this dinosaur.

This is especially so because the top brass do not want to allow their juniors to express themselves as to be able to realize their full potential.

The economy is no longer growing as fast as it used to. So why continue to burden it with relics from the past?

The civil service is too big, even for itself. It’s time to slice it down before it collapses on itself.


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