Need to modernise public service

Editorial, Normal

The National, Friday December 11th, 2015

 THE large and cumbersome public service payroll has been open to abuse by unscrupulous people for many years. The abuse happens, so it seems, because the opportunity just presents itself to whoever has the penchant for it. 

Lately, however, the positive achievements in the public service in general and in particular changes at the Department of Personnel Management can be be likened to a new dawn on the horizon.    

Several years ago, a shadow provincial public service had been allowed to actually siphon large amounts of public money. For a time it seemed that a separate payroll of ghost civil servants was being run in parallel with the actual payroll of actual people occupying the same public service jobs. 

Over time the ghost employees were uncovered and their free money stopped flowing although recouping all that loss is much too difficult.

Similar situations have and do exist in other provinces and yearly the country continues to lose money through loopholes in the public service payroll.

By and large, the losses can be put down to the Government’s ineffective and outdated accounting and reporting processes and systems. It is unfortunate that some people take advantage of such loopholes for their own selfish gain.

On a positive note though, the Government through especially the departments of personnel management and finance have over the years made a lot of progress in the management of the public service.

Manpower and financial audits have contributed to various downsizing and rightsizing exercises.

Investments in information technology replacing old paper records and manual entries have contributing to cuts in costs and savings and it can be said that government accounting is today is far better than it was then. 

And through the use of better and newer software in information technology a lot of wastage in the public service can be cut out.

It was reported recently that more than K1.2 million was saved through a rationalisation of the Government payroll by the Department of Personnel Management.

Secretary John Kali has announced that the savings were made through an exercise aimed at restoring the integrity of the Government payroll system.

These savings were the result of the ‘data cleansing’ of 61 government agencies so far by the department, which ensured that public servants were being paid the correct rate against their job classifications.

The savings imply that a number of public servants in the government agencies – in this case mainly provincial administrations – have been paid incorrect rates against incorrect job classifications. 

According to the department, some public servants have in fact been underpaid and that anomaly would be rectified soon.

It was also said that the savings could easily more than double if the same approach to cleanse the data from the rest of the government departments and statutory bodies.

The operation is part of a programme involving the checking of records of every public servant to ensure that he or she is being paid at the correct rate.

Further savings are expected to be made through the elimination of illegal employees and a crackdown on unattached and unbudgeted positions. 

In some instances, employees were being underpaid but Kali said the software used would identify this error so some public servants could expect a pay rise. 

The programme identified public servants in two provinces being overpaid by K587,000 and K346,000. 

For provincial departments, these are large amounts that can fund a programme under any division or branch.  And savings of this magnitude would make a difference to any provincial budget.

The use of modern accounting software and payroll management systems is beginning to show results. Investing in this area in order to rectify and streamline expenditure, accounting, auditing and reporting mechanism is commendable.

While it is true that a lot of money has gone to waste or deliberately stolen, ineffective and outdated government record keeping and has also contributed to some of the loss over the years.

More investment in modernising the public service, especially at the provincial and district level would naturally lead to result-oriented spending and cut out wastage.

Over time this will ensure government money does not get lost in a jungle of paper and to ghost public servants.