Friday, January 12, 2018

Any government vehicle/transport policy must be an integral part of a comprehensive civil service reform

Government television (GRTS) viewers were surprised by the one-sentence announcement from the Finance Ministry informing the audience that the new vehicle policy that was approved by the National Assemble as part of the 2018 Budget was being suspended before it is implemented.

The terse statement left open the reason for the decision which invited speculation from various quarters as to what led to the abrupt about face.  It becomes even more puzzling to those unfamiliar with the structure of the civil service and the importance of access - not misuse - to official transport can be difference between losing a senior officer to the private sector or an international organization and retaining him or her in the service.

During the 2018 budget process, we learned that Gambian taxpayers are saddled with an annual vehicle maintenance bill of D 300 million which is approximately $ 6 million that works out to D 150 every year for every man. woman and child in The Gambia.  And this figure is just to fuel an ever growing fleet that comprises of some of the world's most expensive car and four-wheel drives. 

Expenditures on the purchase of new cars are treated under separate account which, in our view should be zero.  Government should not spend a dime for the purchase of new vehicles.  The moratorium on new car purchases should be on place for as long as the situation demands it.  In fact, some luxury cars should be be put on the auctioned block to reduce the size of the fleets.

As we have said earlier, the use of an official car has implicitly become an earned employee privilege and an important component of the package as one of the 'perks'  that attracts talent in the same way that fresh graduates in the 60s and early 70s were assured a government loan to buy a car to go along with their newly acquired 'senior service' status. 

The reintroduction of a car loan scheme for civil servants is an important component of  the government's attempt to shift some of the financial burden away from the budget into the persona finances of civil servants but that is only part of the story which may explain why there's stiff resistance from the bureaucrats, and perhaps from President Barrow. 

The bigger picture entails a comprehensive reform of the civil service which will review not only the size and professional and non-professional mix of the service but the schemes of service of the various classifications of staff.  Salary increases - to be financed from savings realized from the restructuring - and other entitlements, should be an integral part of the exercise. 

Limiting access to official an official vehicle without increasing salaries and allowances, thus effectively reducing the civil servants' benefits package will be an unwelcome policy initiative as the Finance Minister was quick to realize.  In short, because the problems facing the civil service are intertwined, the problem must be handled holistically.