Monday, March 17, 2014

‘Ballooning wage bill’ the latest national fad

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 16 March 2014

As is the fashion in this country, the attention of all and sundry is now riveted on the latest fad, the ‘ballooning wage bill’. We have now forgotten about the issues surrounding the standard gauge railway, which was given the green light to proceed despite serious misgivings about its cost and viability. We are no longer talking about the starving people in the north. We have moved beyond our outrage after the Auditor-General reported that over Sh300 billion in government expenditure could not be accounted for.

As we now embark on long-winded discussions on the ‘ballooning wage bill’, we are still planning to spend billions of shillings to pay what the government calls ‘ghost workers’. We are going to spend billions to pay the parallel county governments under control of the national government, also known as the ‘provincial administration’ despite the envisaged scrapping of this system by the Constitution.

In each county, several people are doing the job of one person. For instance, in the health sector, each county has a member of the executive committee in charge of health, effectively the county minister for health. Under each of these individuals, there are chief officers in charge of health, effectively the county principal secretaries for health. They control a multitude of staff under them responsible for county health functions. 


Interestingly, the national government has also deployed county directors of medical services and directors of public health to each county, under whom there are district (sub-county) medical officers of health. In many instances, these officers have a parallel bureaucracy under them, effectively duplicating the roles and functions of the county-appointed officers. This confusing structure is duplicated across all the purportedly devolved functions.

So our national government has assembled all the experts in economic affairs, and correctly diagnosed the problem behind our slow economic growth and difficulties meeting our recurrent obligations. The problem, of course, is the ‘ballooning wage bill’! Different percentages are cited, all in an attempt to demonstrate that we are paying our workers way more than they deserve, leading to inadequate funding of development projects and over-reliance on aid from the bitterly-hated West.

And our government, after correctly diagnosing the problem, has come up with the very best solution possible under the circumstances. We must reign in the ‘ballooning wage bill’ if we are to survive imminent economic collapse.

This is because we are unable to shepherd the economy to grow in ‘double digits’ as naively promised during the campaigns, while paying our lowly workers as much as we are currently doing. It has proved difficult to rein in the corruption that costs our economy hundreds of billions of shillings annually, because we are paying our workers way too much.

We cannot deliver on the health, security, infrastructure and education promises to our population, and at the same time pay the health workers the salaries they demand. In fact, according to the brilliant economists advising our government, we may need to retrench some of those workers in order to improve efficiency in service delivery.

According to the government, making the private sector the preferred employer for our top brains is the top priority. The first step, of course, is to institute a pay cut across the board and tame the ‘ballooning wage bill’.

Brilliant, revolutionary stuff, if you ask me! 

Dr Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and senior lecturer at Moi University’s School of Medicine.

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