President Peter Mutharika has made it clear that he will not maintain the current number of 65 principal secretaries (PSs) to service 18 ministries.
Mutharika’s message resonated with his party’s campaign promises of appointing a lean Cabinet of 18 ministers and two deputies as well as improving efficiency and effectiveness in the civil service.
According to a source at Capital Hill, Mutharika wants to reduce the number of principal secretaries.
Weekend Nation research shows that each of the 65 PSs currently gets a salary of K490 000 (US$1 189) a month plus 500 litres of fuel or K426 700 (US$1 035.7) worth of fuel to run their official vehicles.
These two items alone give a PS K916 700 (US$2 225) a month, which, for at least 65 officers, translates to over K59 million a month and K715 million (US$1 735 437) a year. But if the number of PSs could correspond to the number of ministries, the cost would be just over K16 million (US$38 461.5) a month or about K196.3 million (US$476 456) a year resulting in an annual saving of over K511 million (US$1 240 291.3).
Said the source: “The President said he does not want the number of principal secretaries to exceed 20. He says he does not want a top heavy civil service and I think this was after realising that with the small number of ministries that are there, the civil service has over 65 PSs.
“Now the dilemma is how to go about reducing the number of these senior officers. When you look at their contracts, there are not more than five who are due for retirement, the other option would be to pay them off which will require substantial amount of money or they will be redeployed which may mean demotion of some sort.”
While not wanting to commit itself, the Civil Service and Public Service Reform Commission chaired by Vice-President Saulos Chilima, says officers would be fired if consultations currently underway would offer it as a solution to achieve Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government agenda.
According to the Public Service Management Reforms and Capacity Development Programme 2012-2016—government is developing a rationalised organisational structure with clearly defined mandates for public service management.
Government spokesperson and Minister of Information, Tourism and Civic Education, Kondwani Nankhumwa, said in a questionnaire response, as a short term plan to improve service delivery, the commission is looking at institutions, workforce, processes and change management issues.
“Based on wide consultations and analysis of findings, the commission shall chart the national direction and establish national priorities in Civil Service and Public Service reforms that will ensure successful change towards a dynamic, efficient and effective Public Service.”
“Reduction of public expenditure will be achieved through implementation of the various reforms that are aimed at improving service delivery. The findings and available options may indicate if cutting down of officials should be part of the solution, but that cannot be determined immediately,” he said.
Nankhumwa said the commission is carrying out consultations with the public, among other stakeholders, to get harmonised ideas, views and inputs on reforms for the improvement of civil service and public service delivery.
He said based on the consultations outcome, the commission would decide and direct the implementation of quick-win reforms that could be fast-tracked in the public service.
“Paramount in such decision making shall be to take into account improvement in service delivery, taking into account the interests of the public and members of staff. Any such action to be taken will be in line with Malawi laws and standard management practices,” said the minister.
Nankhumwa said following the merging of ministries and departments, government was conducting a thorough review that would provide “an evidence-based guide” for determining and ensuring the appropriate structures, mandates and numbers of staff to enable them to fulfill their roles.
Last year, Principal Secretary responsible for administration in the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) Clement Chinthu Phiri said there are departments “which are important and so big that they deserve a PS at the helm.”
“It’s not like only ministries require PSs as controlling officers. Some departments are quite big,” said Chinthu Phiri citing Disaster Management, HIV and Aids, Department of Human Resource Management and Development and Statutory Corporations all under OPC as some that deserve a PS.
Former vice-president and secretary to the President and Cabinet Justin Malewezi is on record as saying an economy the size of Malawi would do well “if the Executive considered having ministries we can afford.”
A public sector specialist at Chancellor College in Zomba, Dr Richard Tambulasi, argues that the bloated number of controlling officers is a drain on already strained public resources.
“Some of these don’t even have well defined division of labour, which creates problems in terms of who does what and it has heavy economic implications with a lot of money spent on a few people,” said Tambulasi.