The Eid’s Two Tails [Archives:1998/07/Reportage]

February 16 1998

Ismail Al-Ghabiry,
Yemen Times

The recent Eid public holiday, as announced by the Ministry of Civil Service, was for six days only – from Monday 26th of January to Sunday 1st of February. Out of respect for the responsibility with which the government employees are entrusted, they were expected to be in their workplaces the following day – Monday 2nd of February. Such an expectation, however, is based on the assumption that most – if not all – public employees would adhere to the rules and regulations and honor their duty.

During the holy month of Ramadhan, people fast during the day and stay up late at night. They most probably chew qat, waking up the next morning mentally and physically exhausted. They go to work late; normally after noon prayers and stay until 3pm. The work productivity goes down in all government ministries and corporations. This further compounds the drop in efficiency just before and after the Eid holiday.
Many civil servants have relatives in distant governorates and visiting them is part of the Eid custom. Since Eid festivities last longer in rural areas, civil servants tend to have a habit of observing these customs at the expense of their work. In the past, absence of a few days by civil servants following the Eid was tolerated.

The Eid holiday in Yemen, according to public employee “traditions,” has to two “tails” or “subla” in Arabic. An individual public employee, for example, grants himself or herself the right to a few-days leave of absence before and after the official Eid holiday. In other words, many government employees start their Eid holiday a few days before the Eid, and come back to work a few days after the official holiday is over. Their excuses and justifications are always ready.

Most government employees regard their jobs as a necessary insurance for the future, for sake of guaranteeing a pension and a few other benefits. These employees do not fear losing their jobs as they are guaranteed for them by the power of the law. However, since such a post does not provide its occupant with the monthly rent of his or her house, there does not remain much respect for the public duty. So the main reasons behind administrative laxity are poor pay and the absence of any deterrents to the wrongdoers. Work productivity is naturally an important part of any activity. It is an important factor of the efficiency of any establishment, whether in the private or public sector. Productivity of the civil service in the Republic of Yemen is markedly below the desired standard, and contrasts poorly with productivity in the private sector.

This phenomenon is attributed to many reasons including the overall lack of discipline in government ministries. Public-sector employees are rarely made accountable for their under productivity. The carrot-and-stick method does not apply here. Rewards, incentives, and promotions are sometimes given to undeserving people according to criteria that have nothing to do with the common civil service rules and regulations. A just evaluation of performance, discipline, efficiency, and qualifications is sometimes absent from many of our civil service establishments.

The negative attitude towards work in general and public service in particular is a chronic problem in the Yemeni society. It goes back to the long years of the absence of the state and its laws, rules, and veneration. Fears are often expressed that this heavy burden will gradually turn into a more entrenched “tradition” that is hard to tackle or get rid of. It will remain a set of shackles that keeps the Yemeni society backward.
A real and comprehensive administrative reform program must be implemented to rectify the general structure of the public service system. Also, an overall re-evaluation of the civil service laws and legislations must be conducted in order to reform the pay structure and to bring it up to date. The principle of reward and punishment must be fairly applied so as to create a balance between rights and duties.

Overstaffing and masked unemployment are also detrimental aspects that must be tackled. Public employees who occupy senior and supervisory posts must provide positive role models to their junior staff. They must exhibit better performance at work, discipline, self denial, and show more concern for public funds and property. Such positive behavior will have a marked effect on the employees by raising their sense of responsibility and improving their performance. Public employees must realize that a job in the civil service is not just a means of making a living, but also a big national and social responsibility that must be performed accordingly.

The government has been trying to change this trend by carrying out post-Eid supervisory visits to government organs, followed by salary pay-cut penalties for absent emplyees. However, records show that up to 50% of the civil servants remain absent without permission from their jobs on the first 2 to 3 days following Eid holidays regardless of the imposed penalties. They do not care if these days’ wages are deducted from their monthly salary, since it does not amount to much  anyway.

The president of the Republic or Prime Minister visits the ministry of Civil Service and Administration Reform on the first working day after the Eid holidays with the aim of giving this issue due importance, but the Eid “tail” custom seems to persist.