Hamoud al-Sufi admits:”We do not know exactly the number of Yemen’s civil servants” [Archives:2003/675/Community]

October 9 2003

Mohammed Al-Qadhi
The current administrative sector is facing problems because of its inflation as some time ago jobs were not meant to meet development needs, rather they were to serve interest of some people. After the unification in 1990, two administrative sectors were merged and therefore, there was, according to the minister, a need to assimilate all the employed staff of the then two countries. This resulted in a sort of employment accumulation, despite the fact that some of the labor force is needless. “Therefore, there has been an urgent need to overhaul this terrible situation,” he said, adding “we have taken good steps in implementing this reform package. Unfortunately, people do not feel the outcome of this very quickly. The results are not welcomed and reform is always a headache for many people who do not understand the benefit of it on the long- run and those whose interests are targeted by such reform.”

Correct Database after 7 months
One of the main concerns of this ministry is to create a correct database. The minister said there is a committee working now on the project in cooperation with the National Document Center to check documents of the ministry and review them so as to come up with a complete and true database of the state's administrative sector as a whole. “This is because we do not know now exactly how many people are working for the government. There are approximately 46,000 employees, 69-70,000 out of them are females. However, we are not sure of this number,” al-Sufi said. However, he confirmed that creating a database for his ministry is no longer a headache as much work has been done so far in this regard and that his ministry is now at the implementation phase. “It is expected that in 7 months time, we would be able to know how many employed people in the administrative sector of the state are,” he added.

Political will to protect reforms
The previous leadership of the ministry attempted to find a way out for the dual and phantom jobs problem. Al-Sufi said this leadership might have been put under pressure as there was a government's commitment before the parliament to sort out who are the real working staff of the state. But, the measure taken to find out that, was not practical as it was based on computer, depending on the similarity of names to find out the dual and phantom job holders at a time when there is not yet a correct database to depend on. Around 16, 000 employees were labeled as dual job holders. Yet, people complained and 90% of these people were returned to their jobs and there is a committee still working on the rest. “However, we are quite sure that dual and phantom jobs do exist; there are people who hold dual jobs in the civil service and the military or security and there are others who even hold more than one job in two sectors within the civil service. There are people who receive salaries without performing any job like businessmen, expatriates tc. But we are serious about cracking such chaos and what encourages us to go ahead in reform is that there is a political will and decision. The president asked the government in its first meeting to carry out a revolution in the administration reforms. Implementing reforms needs courageous people who must have a political will to protect them,” he said. He added that what has been achieved since the announcement of the new government was not done in years.

Cracking down corruption
He stressed carrying out such reforms is not merely to respond to the World Bank pressure but “it is a national necessity standing behind speeding up the process of reform,” he said. The WB sponsors such reforms as it is the most important funding organization for them. The minister said that the government might have different views with the WB and donors with respect to reforms. ” However, the WB and donors understand what we are doing and support our work,” he said.
The steps taken by al-Sufi have been praised by so many people who are happy to hear that the mess of employment would come to an end and only meritorious people can get their due rights without favoritism, nepotism, mediation or have to pay for that. The minister has suspended the work of some of his managers in some governorates like Taiz and others. Even the WB country manager, Robert Hindle told me in an interview with him last week that he is happy with the decisions taken by civil service ministry. Some mangers in Taiz have been presented to prosecution on charges of corruption. People expect more stiff measures to stop corrupt crooks trading with posts.

Improving Pension system
There are 33,000 employees who have been retired and the application of the pension system run smoothly and automatically. “Our concern now is to improve and minimize the procedures of pension, avoiding bureaucratic and routine work,” he said, adding that to pension employees used to take much time and bureaucracy. The procedure can even reach the president of the republic. “We have proposed a simpler procedure to the cabinet to endorse in this respect. We just need a good database so that the ministries of civil service, finance as well as general authorities for securities can take their procedures easily. To tell you the truth, the wages payroll has been to some extent cleaned from retired people,” he said.

Biological Fingerprint & photo system
“People having dual jobs is one of the most serious examples of this situation and is a good environment for corruption. And when we target it, of course, we target the interests of many people. This is why we are harshly criticized by people and sometimes by media,” he observed. However, he said, “we understand we are reforming a bad situation and that it would cost a lot. Again, I should say we are very serious and decisive about it as we will all feel its fruitful results in the future.”
For the biologicafingerprint and photo system to be applied by his ministry, he said there is no way to stop the dual jobs phenomenon unless this system is put into practice. He pointed out that there are some countries facing the same problem and that Yemen is making use of their experience. Al-Sufi stressed that this system will target both the civil, security and military sectors. The project will be implemented by a German company as it won the tender among three other companies. The project has been approved of by the cabinet. He pointed out that it will be done with the most advanced technology and that the company will take into account the changes of technology since 2001, the time in which the tender was announced. A committee has been set up to monitor the job of the company after consultations made by a British company were made to incorporate any new technology in this field. Therefore, the cost of the project has raised from 2,900,000 to 3,500,000 euros.
The minister said that the cost covers the biological fingerprint and photo system as well a network of computers in the ministry and in 22 provinces, advanced system for database as well as training and maintenance of the project for three years. The cost is nothing if it is compared to the revenues the government will save from the application of the system. “We will save YR 1 billion and 600 million in a month and YR 17 billion and 500 million a year. It is a lot of money being wasted,” he stated. The work in the project which will definitely decides the fate of reforms will commence probably next November and will last for almost one year. This system will enable the ministry of civil service to find out the dual and phantom job holders who will be dropped out of the government payrolls.

Civil Service Fund
The government established the Civil Service Fund (CSF) in 1999. The minister said that the work of the fund will improve. The Law organizing its work has some breaks. When the government asked the parliament last month to endorse some amendments on the law, there has been a big fuss about it as the opposition criticized the new draft law of trying to drop out employed people onto the streets. However, the minister defends these amendments which give the ministry the right to rehabilitate and train the employees and only those who are not qualified should go to this fund. Al-Sufi said those employees representing extra labor belong to the firms that have been privatized or other institutions whose work has stopped for economic reasons. They mount to 13,000 employees. The new amendment also targets people who belong to some political parties and associations and were employed after the unification for political reasons. They receive salaries without performing any sort of work. Their number reaches to 12,000 persons.

30,000 extra labor
The minister said there is approximately 30,000 labeled as surplus labor and the exact figure can be decided when restructuring process is completed. “We will not drop out these people onto the street and we are not the first country to carry out such measures rather they will be referred to the Fund. We will compensate those people who have not served less than 15 years,” he said, adding that they will take one third of their salaries till they are pensioned. While those who do not accept compensation, their years of service will be paid for and then be pensioned too. “How can we talk about an administrative reform and maintain an surplus fruitless labor. We deal with the situation in a humanitarian way as there are some people who receive salaries without doing any job and the law states that they should be fired,” al-Sufi explained. He said that the salary is no longer enough but only people who deserve should have a raise. With the existing government payroll that is not possible. Once it is cleaned, there is a possibility for improving the wages of civil service workers. Wages payroll should be cleaned from dual and phantom jobs holders as well as retired before this step takes place.

Review of Reform
He stressed that reform is a complete process that can not be divided, pointing out that it needs also amendments of some laws related to civil service, securities, wages, social security which was part of the ministry of social affairs ..etc. These laws, according to the minister, have to be amended also to be harmonious with each other and with the local council law as they now conflict with each other. They have to form a coherent package.
He said that the government has now a meeting which started yesterday with the WB and donors to have some kind of mid-term review of what has been achieved of the reform package. “We will discuss with them all issues concerned and we will reply to their questions with some concrete and tangible work we have been doing so far,” he said.
Concerning the replacement of some Arab workers by Yemenis, the minister said that there are qualified Yemenis who can replace them. There are 3835 Arabs working for the ministry of education and 1960 have been already replaced by Yemenis. He said that another 1200 diploma holders from some Arab countries will be soon replaced by Yemenis.