“Noticeable progress in Civil Service Reform” [Archives:2005/895/Opinion]

November 17 2005

One of the most important elements of the Economic, Financial and Administrative Reform Program, which the Yemeni Government has been implementing since 1995 is the Civil Service Modernization Program. This program has been under implementation since 1999. The program was set up with the help of the World Bank (the Dutch are also in on this) to streamline the public service employment, with a view towards making it smaller and more efficient and to solve the problem of corruption, which has become a wide spread phenomenon that touched almost every sector in Government. With the payroll of those in public service, including the military and security organs reaching some 1,000,000, this represented an awesome burden on the Government Budget. Having said that, it should be noted that the large amounts spent for salaries and wages for public servants did not give individual employees the remuneration that would provide for all the essential needs of subsistence in most cases and most employees suffered from despair and frustration, especially as salaries were not adjusted to meet the dwindling value of the Yemeni Riyal. Furthermore, as time went on, many government entities sought ways to circumvent the uniform pay scale that the government had put in effect since 1983, which is also the year that the Yemeni Riyal started to deteriorate (the exchange rate for the local currency was then US $ 1 = YR 4.55).

When unification was achieved in 1990, this merged the former civil services of both the former People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (South Yemen) with that of the Yemen Arab Republic (North Yemen) into one payroll. With the Government of the PDRY being the only employer under a formerly strict socialist regime, this inflated the public service payroll significantly. In addition, as a result of the Gulf War a large number of expatriate Yemenis returned from the Gulf states. As a result, the Government went on to add more employees to make up for the inability of the private sector to provide jobs for hundreds of thousands, who all of a sudden became unemployed, in order to reduce the social impact on the rest of the society. This obviously meant that government employment was no longer subject to actual work needs and proper criteria of selection. As a result the civil service had turned into a big, but largely inefficient apparatus, especially as most civil servants were in the low pay strata of the payroll, and could not be assigned to dutiful employment that allowed the Government to provide efficient and effective public services.

Without prejudice to the above, it goes without saying with government salaries and wages mostly insufficient to meet employees' needs for subsistence, let alone produce a dignified standard of living, corruption found its way through all the various sectors of Government. With the absence of transparency and accountability, it was not long before corruption set in and became an acceptable norm in public service.

In the meantime, the Ministry of Civil Service was for sometime no more than an employment office that was primarily engaged in finding jobs for those who sought to enter public service, and there were a lot of these. The labor market was saturated with unemployed manpower, which grew from year to year, as the high birth rate of the population turned thousands of new people to the labor market each year, but the market could not absorb them.

Since the Ministry of civil Service was taken over by Mr. Hamoud Khalid Al-Soufi, the Ministry, with the help of donors, sought to confront all this accumulation of mismanagement of human resources. The Ministry of Civil Service carried out a comprehensive survey of government employees and worked to establish a central data base of all government employees. It also set out to determine the costs of this large number of employees to the Government and determine, how much of this large number is effectively working. This was no easy task.

With the full information known, it was easy to see where the reforms were needed and the requirements for restructuring, if the Government was to optimize the use of the manpower under its employment. However, it was also clear that any reforms in this field were bound to meet with substantial opposition. Many of the entities have over the years acquired their own mandates as to the management of their human resources and thus had their own pay scales and ability to hire and appoint staff as they pleased.

After having identified all the deficiencies that public service was facing, the MCSP then introduced substantive and meaningful steps to reform the civil service. Thus, the creation of the Civil Service Fund to take on the surplus employment and the other ineffective employment such as the double employees and ghost employees. In addition, Biometrics was introduced to control the flow of government employees and to prevent a recurrence of double employment and all the other misuses of government employment.

By 2004, Mr. Al-Soufi and the Civil Service Modernization Project Unit, ably headed by Mr. Nabil Shamsan came out with a well designed law and strategy to deal with the problems of determining employment positions, salaries, wages and benefits. The Salaries, Wages and Employment Law (passed in July 2004) and the Salaries and Wages Strategy, now under consideration by the Government were the culmination of a number of efforts and based on a scientific and practical approach to human resource management. Moreover, despite the obvious increases that the new pay scales introduced by the Law and the strategy entailed, the ongoing restructuring and reengineering phases of the project would work to ensure that the new wages and salaries would not represent an increase in overall payroll costs, since these phases would help to reduce the number of government employees significantly, while at the same time streamline government organs to operate efficiently.

With all the fine work that the MCSP has undertaken in this regard, it would not be surprising that the MCSP would also find a way to introduce accountability so that all those who continue to abuse public service are confronted with the reality that honor and ethical conduct are fundamental to sound human resource management in Government and the real path to successful and efficient Government.