Only Humans can Drag Ethiopia Out of the Service Deficit

Frequent power outages and no running water for days are part of normal life in Ethiopia. The state of public transport has worsened in big cities like Addis Ababa while it is nearly non-existent in small towns. Citizens still have to wait in long queues for hours to access public service that does not come cheap anymore.

These long lasting problems are a constant reminder of the inefficiency of the civil service. The stories EBR has run in this edition also corroborate this fact. For instance, our article entitled ‘Inside the FDI Smokescreen’ indicates that out of 3 billion dollars of attracted FDI during the past fiscal year, only USD 40 million made it to implementation as projects. Public institutions and regional offices admittedly lack the capacity to receive and implement the attracted FDI. Our interview with Andualem Admassie, Director General of Higher Education Relevance and Quality Agency (HERQA), exposes the plummeting quality of education as students who don’t fulfill the entry grade go on to unaccredited higher educational institutions and attain degrees, and nearly all teachers fail exams on the subjects they teach in high school.

Call us pessimists for confronting the harsh realities in the country, but turning our heads away has made things worse. Inefficiency has been one of the identifying characteristics of the Ethiopian civil service and things have got to start changing now. For starters, officials need to understand and demonstrate that human resource is the most important of all resources. It is about time civil servants get compensated fairly. Amenities such as cars and houses are beyond the realistic aims of a hard working civil servant with a conscience. Fringe benefits accorded to some teachers should be expanded to encompass all civil servants.

Motivating civil servants and attracting competent manpower to join their ranks will reflect positively on the performance of the sector. Structural, policy, and material problems have a better chance of being alleviated with a motivated and skilled labor force. Meticulously designed five year plans and development policies mean nothing in the face of a demotivated and hopeless group of people willing to implement them. Therefore, manpower remains the key variable in the formula of an efficient civil service in Ethiopia.

A change in the attitudes of government officials needs to come first, as it is the key to measures in that direction. Recent comments by none-other-than the Civil Service Commissioner, Bezabeh Gebreyes, boldly declaring ‘if citizens want to lead comfy lives, they should not be civil servants’ sends a clear signal that officials are as far-off the required attitudinal changes as they ever were. If the official who should sympathize with civil servants basically tells them that they have no hope as long as they are in the sector, how are they simultaneously expected to excel in their jobs?

Restoring hope to civil servants and making the civil service attractive to skilled labour equates to raising the efficiency of the sector. Although an extensively researched road map to make the civil service efficient would help identify a clear path out of the current quagmire the sector is in, such a scheme needs to have human resources at its core.EBR

9th Year • Mar.16 – Apr.15 2020 • No. 84

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