By Mohammed Nosseir
Egypt is widely known for its vast government bureaucracy. Inefficiency, low productivity and over-employment are noticeable characteristics of this bureaucracy that negatively affect the implementation and progress of all government initiatives and projects. Not only are these drawbacks recognised by economic institutions and citizens; they are also acknowledged by cabinet members themselves. Although these deeply rooted challenges in our government bureaucracy are somehow perceived to be unchangeable cultural traits, they can in fact be easily reformed by altering government bylaws, administrative structure and working environment.
Seven million citizens (roughly one-third of Egypt’s labour force) are government employees, and public wages consume nearly one-fourth of the government’s expenses. In light of the well-known government employment formula: lifetime job security and a stable income, coupled with low productivity and vague accountability, citizens are quite happy to keep their government jobs. Were the government to start hiring new employees today, millions of citizens will certainly be eager to apply. Moreover, employees who are already a burden on the government, often demand improved conditions that they do not deserve.
The Egyptian government previously applied an early retirement scheme, which had extremely limited success – to the extent that some of the employees who had accepted the scheme attempted to go back to their jobs a few years later. Furthermore, programmes designed to enhance government employees’ knowledge do not appear to have brought about any improvement.
The current status of government employees needs to be shaken up and redesigned. This can be done by applying a number of schemes aimed at enhancing productivity among government employees, and encouraging employees to move to the private sector or even to set up their own private businesses. The over-employment and low productivity of government employees could be turned into a positive base on which to build.
A first scheme that we can begin with is to simply reallocate government employees to government entities located closer to their places of residences. Let us not bother too much with matching employees’ knowledge and skills to the requirements of their new positions; their output will be limited in any case. Instead, we should focus more on the considerable benefits reallocation will bring to reducing traffic flow and pollution, in addition to the advantages of reallocation for the employees who will spend less time commuting to and from work. We could also allow employees to work from home for a given number of days per month.
A second scheme would be to extend government working hours by introducing the concept of two shifts. At present, anyone who needs to deal with a government entity is obliged to absent themselves from work for a few hours in order to accomplish the task. Enabling government entities to operate 14 hours a day (split into two work shifts) will allow citizens to deal with their government related business during the evening shift, after their own working hours are over. We could even extend this concept to include working on weekends (on a rotating basis).
Instead of investing millions of pounds on training courses that have not, so far, enhanced the efficiency of government employees, the third scheme would entail encouraging employees to seek out suitable training course themselves. The scheme could also include an obligation on the part of employees to pay a financial contribution towards the cost of their training courses. Such a system would mean that only employees who are eager to enhance their knowledge would receive training. Once they have successfully applied their newly acquired skills and knowledge, the government would compensate its employees for any expenses they may have incurred and perhaps reward and promote the most successful amongst them.
The fourth scheme involves encouraging government employees to leave their jobs for better ones in the private sector. This might appear to be a blatantly unattractive scheme; if government employees were inclined to change jobs, why would they wait for any schemes? The proposed system, however, would offer an incentive to employees. Along with the new private sector job, employees would be allowed to keep their government positions for a year or two, during which time they would earn only half of their monthly salaries. Eventually, after finishing what may be described as a “private sector trial experience”, government employees will have to make a decision, retaining either the private sector job or the government position. It is a well-known fact that many government employees work part-time as freelancers during government working hours. We can build upon this to encourage them to expand their business outside of the government.
The fifth scheme concerns encouraging government employees to set up their own businesses by allowing them to request a “friendly leave” for a period of two to three years. For the duration of this leave period, they would receive only fifty percent of their salary at the end of each month. The remaining fifty percent would be paid to them upfront in a lump sum, to enable them to run their businesses. The scheme would require that the government monitor the spending of the upfront cash amount earmarked for setting up employees’ proposed projects.
The above schemes certainly constitute a non-traditional approach to resolving a number of deeply rooted problems. The government will decline some of the proposed schemes, and employees will refuse others (both parties want to continue living in their comfort zones). However, these schemes can serve as a basis for debate and improvement among experts. Maintaining the current status of government employees unchanged is definitely a proposition that can only lead to accumulated failures and impact negatively on all government projects. We need to transform government employees from a heavy burden that the government is dragging along into an engine that can propel Egypt forward.
Mohammed Nosseir is an Egyptian Liberal Politician working on reforming Egypt on true liberal values, proper application of democracy and free market economy. Mohammed was member of the Higher Committee, and headed the International Relations of the Democratic Front Party from 2008 to 2012