New civil service reform
One of the home works that awaited the once rebel group the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) when it took office from the military junta Derg in 1991 was reforming the civil service, so that it can fit the new political economic landscape. It was evident that the transition from a centrally planned economy to a more of market-led one (later reversed to developmental state) would require a civil service that can execute the mission. What is ‘the mission’, you may ask. Well, in its simplest form, it is the accomplishment of the vision that EPRDF’s young administration bought into; i.e. enable Ethiopian citizens to eat thrice a day as the then president of the transitional government, Meles Zenawi, as he once put it.
Despite the elusiveness of this vision, the civil service has passed through various reforms that began immediately in 1991. This reform initiative ran to the very recent introduction of the Business Process Reengineering (BPR) and Balanced Score Card (BSC), management tools applied to improve the service delivery of the Ethiopian Civil Service sector and said to have failed miserably after years of investment is made on internalizing these tools. The aims of these reforms ranged from restructuring the civil service, cost minimization, capacity building, enable performance-based evaluation to measure improvement of government service delivery.
In spite of the improvements that came through time, the reform processes, much of it at least, can be summed up as being unsuccessful. Fekadu Nigussa, a lecturer at the Ethiopian Civil Service University, who wrote a journal article on the civil service reform processes in the post-Derg Ethiopia, concludes that “Despite the contribution of the reform efforts in reshaping and restructuring the public sector for the better socio-economic development of post Derg Ethiopia, there have been a syndrome of on and off to sustain the reform.”
The unsuccessfulness of the reforms can be associated with the lack of properly integrated and sequenced approach to implementation, inconsistency with performance evaluation, the servants’ resistance to change, lack of accountability, weak communication, poor sense of ownership, inefficient technological readiness, weak team work culture, absence of a well designed and implemented renumeration system, not to mention the brain drain of trained experts from the civil service and poor human resource management system, Fekadu points out in this paper.
Therefore, Ethiopia’s “civil service reform calls for knowledge based, bottom up and integrated reform than embarking up on a dozen of models and/or tools,” Fekadu assessed.
While other critics downplay the reform measures taken by the government on the grounds that it has “failed to address the intended objective of delivering efficient and effective public services,” Fekadu particularly sees that, “BPR has failed in a sense that the momentum in the early implementation stages could not be sustained as it was not accompanied by job grading and incentive packages.”
Tesfaye Debela (PhD), an associate professor at the Ethiopian Civil Service University, also finds out that because of the absence of such packages, the government has halted the “bi-annual horizontal salary increment to civil servants” in a belief that “it can link performance results with the associated reward by implementing the results based performance management system in all of its civil service organizations. However, the government did this without establishing the result-based performance management system.”
Cognizant of its deficiencies to bridge the reforms with the necessary job evaluation and grading (JEG) the lack of which compromised the constitutional provision of ‘equal pay for equal work’, the Council of Ministers adopted a job evaluation and grading regulation prepared and presented to it by the Civil Service Commission (CSC) last week.
The new regulation came into play at a national level multi-faceted reform process being carried out by the new administration of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD); and it will change the positions-based classification of jobs. This is an outdated job classification which does not fit into the situation of the 21st century, argues Bezabih Gebreyes, Commissioner at CSC.
“The previous classification of job position was open for interpretation by different government offices and there is no nationally accepted definition of the positions,” Bezabih argues, adding that every ministry and agency used to create its own professional placement, naming it as it sees fit, and prepare job descriptions independently. “For instance, in principle, when a policy making institutions craft policies, their jobs should be the same as they are under the same framework. But, this is not how it was done because the government did not place any governance tool to do so.”
This made the system elastic and the placements exceeded 18,000. The nation also had more than 70 independent salary scales, and has inconsistent payment structure where different salaries are paid to similar jobs which do not vary even in names, he explains.
Although there is lack of expert assessment of the drawbacks of the classification and its challenges, most of its challenges can be summed up as fragmentation in the placement and salary determination systems, outdated work process which does not conform to new technological advances, a system which is unfit for the changing political economy of the country and unjust competition in the market, he indicates.
“The other part of the world has reached a point where they can provide a public service for people who even do not know where the institution is located,” he says, citing Australia’s immigration system. Therefore, the civil service has to adapt to the technological advancement and the ever-changing political economy landscape of the country, he indicates, pointing out that these can also be an indications that the state has to decrease its role of being the major employer in Ethiopia.
“The sate becomes more beautiful and efficient when it focuses on the future and decreases its interventions,” he argued.
Therefore, the new JEG system squeezes the 70 various scales into one and changes the old nine levels and 12 hierarchies to 22 grades placed from one to 12. This decision came following a research conducted depending on the gaps identified during the implementation of the BPR. The research conducted by a consultant hired from abroad with the support from the World Bank synchronized JEG and BPR, which was a difficult task, according to Bezabih.
The new JEG measures jobs on different criteria including the job’s demand for movement, knowledge, communication, accountability etc. And it will be consistently implemented in all government institutions without discrimination and “no one can request for a special salary scale,” Bezabih told The Reporter.
But, the Ministry of Revenues will be an exception in this, as they have already exceeded the salary scale, which the government could not match if it is to be implemented on the other employees in different institutions. And, as an existing benefit, it is protected by the law.
In addition to this, the new JEG will resume the suspended bi-annual salary increment to the public sector employees based on a continuous evaluations process.
Apart from this, the new JEG is believed to have a discouraging effect with regard to employee turnover, since changing jobs between offices for better salary without any variation in the positions. Employees with similar jobs will get equal salaries in any government institution, he states.
“One of the problems in the previous practice was that, institutions’ vacancies that require experience drain employees from other public institutions and they do not bring in fresh minds into the system. Rather they recycle what is already in the system which in turn limits creativeness,” he indicates. “In the new JEG, there will be no movement of employees from institution to institution, since the difference would be quite insignificant if there is any at all.”
They might change because of job enrichment and conduciveness of the work environment.
But, Bezabih also asserts that the new JEG should not be confused with salary increment. There might be some people who would get increment and others who would not if their current salary fits the positions they assume while re-graded.
However, new reforms in the civil service might not be welcomed by the civil servant which has passed through various experiments of reforms for the past 28 years, Fekadu admits in his article.
“The previous pick-drop experience of different reform tools in the civil service sector may perpetuate ‘a reform tool fatigue/fade’ that would be challenging for future efforts,” he indicated, adding that “the reform tools implemented so far followed the top down approach; there were no room for a given sector to customize the tools with its own context.”
But, the general belief is that, the job evaluation mechanism is important for the efficiency of the public sector as Adebabay Abay indicated in his workshop paper titled “Promoting and strengthening professionalism in the civil service: The Ethiopian case.”
“The reintroduction of Job evaluation is very urgent because the current situation might lead to paying differently to jobs which have equal value. Paying differently for equal value of work is a serious violation of the merit principle,” he argued.
A directive has been drafted by the Commission and sent to respective Ministries as well as regional governments for review and comment.