From the time Kenya gained independence, the Civil Service has been a lifetime employer, the performance of an individual largely notwithstanding.
Indeed, it takes a lot of doing for a government and parastatal employee to exit the service whatever infraction they commit due to the permanent employment terms, making the Civil Service unresponsive to market dynamics and realities.
This has bred lethargy and a comfort zone that rarely exists in the private sector. Over the years, some departments including Land — especially registries — have become so corrupt or inept, in a sense resembling the infamous ‘deep State’.
Not only do they outlast ministers and even new governments, they are also difficult to reform. The end result has been employees who are out to serve themselves rather than the public, with no consequences forthcoming.
Amidst this sorry state of affairs, little has changed over time in the service barring the disastrous graft-inducing decision to allow employees to engage in private business decades back, and which left them free to do business with public institutions.
But the government has now acted after accumulating tens of billions in pension dues and facing a public wage bill of Sh790 billion. In what is likely to be an earthshaking move, it will no longer employ new civil servants — excluding the police, teachers and the military — on a permanent basis but on three-year renewable contracts.
This will help on several fronts. The obvious one is that the accumulation of pensions will slow down because employees will get gratuity at the end of their contracts. And related to this is the performance contracting that will only see those who meet the benchmarks retained.
Hopefully, this will make the service resilient and more dynamic and attract performers from the private sector. Apart from what the Public Service Commission says are modern trends in employment globally, the so-called millennials are not attracted to long-term encumbrances at the workplace and will be happy to have a ready exit plan.
That is of course besides the employer retaining only the labour it needs and replacing that which is not needed. For the new system to work effectively, performance terms will have to be clearly spelt out to preclude situations where bosses whimsically sack and rehire workers.
This could be a source of instability and cause of corruption.