March 14, 2014


Kenya’s soaring public wage bill has the potential to cripple the economy. But the issues are greater than simply high wages, inefficiency and corruption compounds the issue.

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Kenya’s soaring public wage bill crippling economy, needs overhaul

Kenya’s soaring public wage bill crippling economy, needs overhaul

The country’s public wage bill has been soaring at alarming rates and consequently putting a strain on development funds.  In November last year, donors expressed their concerns over the rising public wage bill which they termed as a threat to Kenya’s economic growth, warning that if not controlled, it could compromise the development and operations of the 47 county governments.


According to the most recent statistics, Kenya’s public sector wage bill has mounted to a level of 13 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Currently there are 700,000 public workers being paid by the government. According to the last budget the wage bill stood at Sh458 billion, accounting for 43 per cent of the national budget but due to the huge cost of devolution the current wage bill has risen to Sh630 billion.


In an effort to cut down the bill the Jubilee government has been trying to come up with measures to control the situation and last year President Uhuru Kenyatta approved a shake-up of public institutions that will see the number of Parastatals reduced from 262 to 187.

The president also announced last week his government’s plan to slash salaries of  top government workers and early this week Uhuru officiated the opening of The Public Wage Bill Debate Forum at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre in Nairobi, whose agenda is to have a national dialogue on the public officials salaries.


While we might all agree that a slash in the huge pay that some public officials earn was long overdue, this Kenya Forum correspondent is of the opinion that the salary slice will not really tame the country’s soaring wage bill, there are much better alternatives that can yield better results in terms of saving the government more billions of shillings.

For instance, on average, the country loses out Sh300 billion on corruption annually yet it’s estimated that by slashing salaries of top officials in the government the government will only save about Sh44 Million. Considering the unequal labour force in the country, only the top crème who earn millions will be subjected to the pay slash and not the lower cadre employees whose pay is minimal. The best paid public official in Kenya earns 120 times that of the poorest.

Secondly, civil servants should be forced to be more accountable and productive in the workplace because as it is they are paid abundantly yet there is little in the way of productivity to show for it. On average, it takes about three civil servants to do work which can be comfortably be done by just one person yet at the end of the day productivity by these handsomely paid public officials stands at 30 per cent.


The issue of ghost workers in public offices and particularly in Nairobi county is one that has for a long time contributed a generous chunk to the soaring wage bill that is threatening Kenya’s economy thus it’s about time these ‘ghosts’ got exorcised by all means if the government is to salvage the situation. Recently, an auditor’s report at the Nairobi county government discovered 2,000 ‘ghost workers’ on the payroll.


The government should also reinforce performance contracts for all public officials including officials in county governments as this will go a long away in enhancing service delivery, efficiency and productivity in the public sector. Through performance contracting, the service delivery of public sector institutions can be better managed, monitored, and measured in a transparent manner for the benefit of the citizenry.

It’s worth noting that soon after being appointed by President Uhuru, Cabinet Secretaries signed performance contracts in public in October last year but then the buck shouldn’t stop there thus its equally imperative for the government to assess the success of its performance agenda.

Therefore the process of monitoring and evaluating performance should be active, open and continuous in order to achieve the desired goals and the public who are recipients of the services offered by the civil servants should be engaged as well.  Performance contracting has been found to be quite successful in a large and diverse set of countries such as France, Pakistan, South Africa, Australia, Canada, Malaysia, South Korea and Ghana.


In addition it’s important for the government to streamline procedures in its institutions to remove bureaucracy. As one ardent Kenya Forum reader shared with this correspondent, most public institutions are filled with employees whose services are really redundant.

“The other day I went to the Kenyan Power Company to have my electricity reconnected after it had been cut off and I had to go through five queues, an activity that took me about an hour. What I found appalling is that all those little procedures that had to take me through five staff were just services that could have been handled by two employees at most”, he said.


Finally, nepotism has been a key source of conflict in the country for years and the government should weed out the vice in the recruitment process in order to ensure that only qualified employees get the jobs. The same auditor’s report that discovered 2000 ghost workers on the Nairobi Country government’s pay roll, also revealed that 2,500 out of the 11,000 workers are relatives and that 3,457 workers are from the same region.


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