End turf wars over parastatal salaries

There is need to end confusion on who ultimately determines State employees’ pay and allowances.

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

Where should the ultimate authority on the determination of salaries and wages of State corporations and public universities sit between the Public Service Commission (PSC) the Salaries Review Commission (SRC) and the State Corporation Advisory Committee?

Welcome to another episode of the messy corporate governance situation in our parastatal sector.

Turf wars, overlapping mandates, jurisdictional disputes, and mission creep is the order of the day in a sector governed by too many laws and institutions.

The latest development in this Tower of Babel is the raging controversy sparked by the recent decision by Harambee House to gazette guidelines whose centrepiece is a new arrangement whereby powers to determine terms of service of CEOs, board members of parastatals, vice-chancellors and members of university councils are to be shared between the SRC and SCAC to the exclusion of the PSC.

The chairman of the Public Service Commission, Mr Athony Muchiri, has opposed the new arrangement arguing that the guidelines gazetted by Harambee House are unconstitutional.

Let’s face it, we have too many constitutional bodies handling the determination of taxpayer-funded salaries and emoluments

Apart from the PSC, SRC and SCAC, we have the Judicial Service Commission, the Police Service Commission, the Teachers Service Commission and the Parliamentary Service Commission.

We had hoped that we would cure the confusion by introducing SRC and entities such as SCAC.

More than a decade later, we have had to face the reality that bodies such as SRC and SCAC have only added to the confusion in the space.

Containing unsustainable wage growth and harmonising wage differential across all public institutions running on tax-payer-funded salaries still pose major problems for us.

And big controversies still surround the constitutionality and legality of the institutions we have mandated to help us in managing unsustainable wages and harmonisation of salaries,

It is noteworthy that even as Harambee House was gazetting the new guidelines granting SRC an expanded role the Court of Appeal recently ruled that the SRC’s powers over the determination of salaries should be limited to giving advice with respect to State officers.

"A person with an advisory role cannot insist that the advice given must be implemented," said the judges in a case involving the National Hospital Fund and unions representing its workers.

"It is, therefore, in excess of its jurisdiction to purport to fix or set salaries for public officers," ruled the judges.

That ruling only served to compound the confusion over the mandate and responsibilities of the SRC and entities such as SCAC.

We have seen court cases where the High Court has ruled that SRC cannot interfere with collective bargaining agreements between public service workers and their employers.

In 2016, the High Courts ruled that SRC’s involvement in collective bargaining agreements contravenes the rights of workers to freely negotiate.

I am inclined to hold the view that the systems we had before the advent of these entities like SRC and SCAC had more clarity. The PSC was responsible for recruitment, selection and discipline while the responsibility of establishment of positions and vetting indents was left to the defunct Directorate of Personnel Management (DPM).

SCAC only popped up into the space much later after we introduced the State Corporations Act.

We must return to the project of constructing an efficient and non-partisan civil service.

We need to relook the roles of entities such as SRC and SCAC because their existence weakens the contractual basis of hiring public servants.

Determination of salaries and wages should be a matter between an employer and an employee.

A third party who had no role in hiring you- and is not involved in assessing your performance- should not have the power to determine what you take home at the end of the month.

We need to restrict them to advisory roles. The whole idea of a third party that sets salaries for everyone in the public service regardless of who your employer is a glaring anachronism.

The writer is a former managing editor of The EastAfrican.

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