Incentives for civil servants



In 1891, the British government grouped tribal States and chiefdom they found south and west of Lake Malawi into one territory they called Nyasaland Protectorate. This is the country which since 1964 has been called Malawi and independent republic.

Since that time, Malawi has a well constituted civil service. Overall, this period in educational and professional qualification, the country has never had so many members as in the past 20 years or so, yet it is during this same period evidences of incompetence, inefficiency and corruption have sprouted as never before. Partly because of these glaring faults, Malawi always one of the poorest 10 countries of the world has deteriorated to the very bottom and become the poorest or second poorest.

In 1924, the Phelps Stokes Commission which comprises Americans, Britons and an African from Ghana called Dr James Aggrey noted that the country had resources enough to develop thanks to a mission educated African population, indirectly criticised British officials in Nyasaland and Britain for not having utilised the manpower and other resources.

The third president of Malawi Bingu wa Mutharika was fond of saying that Malawi was not poor, it was the people who were poor. Basic natural resources such as minerals, rich soils and tourist attractions facilitate development of a country and; hence, the improvement of living standards.

But fundamentally, it is the caliber of the people, their appetite for hard work that matters most. Where people of all classes work with complete dedication, there will be development. If they are not motivated to exert themselves to the maximum, existence of resources alone won’t do any good. They will remain poor. This is the fate of the Malawians.

In most developing countries, government is the main employer. Whenever things go wrong in the civil service, the private sector suffers as well. Why is there so much corruption and inefficiency in the civil service? Champions of the under dogs and human rights say things are not working well in the civil servicesbecause civil servants are not given incentives in the form of better pay. Such people think it is because of government’s stinginess that some civil servants steal public funds or engage in grafts of various types.

Margaret Thatcher of Great Britain, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, former president of United States of America (USA) took special interest in reforming and improving their civil services as preconditions for carrying out their programmes.

In companies, it is fairly easy to link pay with productivity. Who moulds 10 000 bricks a day may receive more than one who moulds only 8 000. In the year that the company has made a higher level of profits, it may award bonuses to its staff.

But in the civil services there is no profit making. Services are difficult to quantify. How then can pay in such situation be correlated with a worker’s productivity or efficiency?

Difficult as it seems, in the US reinventing government was promoted by vice-president Al Gore as well as the Job Partnership Agency scheme. More recently, according to the Economic Journal of October 2017, there has been considerable interest in the use of performance related pay for teachers, public sector doctors as well as for outsourced firms providing service to the public sector.

To try and achieve greater public sector productivity, the government of the United Kingdom in the late 1990s, set up a series of experiments into the use of financial incentives for lower bureaucrats or officials. It was a team-based performance incentive scheme. In other words, the bonus of financial reward was given to a team instead of individuals. The scheme worked better where the teams were small because in small teams, the free rider problem in less than in bigger teams. Free riders are workers who contributed less to the teams’ work and yet expect to share the money equally.

Here in Malawi, we do have small teams engaged in registering voters or citizens. Financial rewards could be given to those teams which finish the registration before the stipulated time.

Individual financial rewards could be given to police officers who have been responsible for apprehending a notorious criminal. Those civil servants who unmask criminal syndicates should also be considered for special rewards. These rewards should be given regardless whether the recipient is due for promotion or not.

Titles equivalent to the colonial certificates of honour MBE, OBE or KCMG should be put in place and given to those who render outstanding services above their normal duties.

For the whole civil service, overboard raises should be linked with improvement in gross domestic product (GDP). To award increases without higher growth rates is to provoke inflation due to over borrowing. The government can pay more only if there is more to collect from the economy. You do not have much milk from a scrawny cow. n

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