Granted that the world has become a global village but in this village every country has its own peculiarities and must perforce carry its own cross. When people compare our consumer prices with other countries, most times they do so oblivious of each country’s salary levels for its staff across the various grades. There have been many attempts at improving the conditions of service of, in particular the Civil service who are generally considered to be poorly paid. Of course the current high inflationary trend is making so much rubbish of our current minimum wage of Le500, 000! Although we cannot entirely blame low salaries for the various corrupt acts now seemingly institutionalized in our public offices, it plays its part to entrench that cankerworm. It is no gainsaying that public services in Sierra Leone are poorly delivered thereby infringing on the rights of usually very poor citizens who need the services like electricity, water and other social services. The low salary situation should not be allowed to continue if meaningful development and the tenets of human rights, democracy and good governance are to be upheld. We have witnessed over the years low-paid civil servants conniving with others to squander whooping sums of government funds. We have had such scandals in so many ministries like health, agriculture and others. Just check out the alarming revelations at the Commissions of Inquiry. State functioning is greatly hampered by corrupt officials who either mismanage or embezzle state funds.
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For so long, salary increase and promotions if done at all were to a few because of political patronage. This further creates bad blood in the service as they are done through corrupt means. A onetime Director-General of the Human Resource Management Office did the work, “The Human Resource Development Needs of The Public Service of Sierra Leone and the efforts being made to strengthen them” and had this to say: “The dramatic growth in the size of the service was creating severe budgetary constraints on Government; which had abrogated itself the role of highest employing authority, a role that was supposed to be carried by the private sector.” We are told that the recruitment, remuneration and promotion of some staff have not followed the formal civil service procedure and as such in normal circumstances should not hold. So downsizing is actually right-sizing. In other words, drop out those placed in positions through political patronage and others due for retirement and then spread their remuneration across the bulk of personnel in the lower and middle cadres. Ian Lienart states in his paper, the African government’s reform objectives as follows: downsize the civil service and make it more affordable and to bring it into line with a new, scaled-down role for government in economic activities; provide civil servants with appropriate incentives, skills, and motivation; and enhance management and accountability. In the Sierra Leone situation, none of these have yet been effected and it is not clear this will happen soon if ever. The irony is that just 5 top civil servants can cover as many as 50 lower cadre civil servants, and it is at the lower and middle level cadres that public services are rendered. A serious anomaly that bloats the Civil Service numbers is the so-called “ghost workers.” These are staff that do not exist but have their names on payrolls. Government needs to take a bold step to allow an independent Body to look into the issue of Civil Service reform. If it is left with politicians themselves, it will be most unlikely that significant progress will be made since it appears they are part of the problem. It is like employing a dog as a Butcher without first removing its teeth.
By Beny SAM
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