Civil Service Reform – Global Issue, National Outcomes

By on 08/10/2014 | Updated on 27/01/2022
Cayman Islands - still a paradise if you're made redundant from the public sector? Photo: Don McDougall


While many governments around the world have embraced the idea of reforming their civil services for increased efficiency, how it is done and what are seen as the likely outcomes, differ markedly. A snapshot of several countries shows the variety of stresses.

The civil service in some countries is simply pushing back against cuts and austerity. In South Africa the 1.3 million in the civil service are demanding a 15% pay rise. This must be balanced against a high level of inflation, but they are also demanding more generous housing subsidy and other benefits when the present wage round expires in March 2015.

South African economist Cees Bruggemans calls their opening demands ‘outrageous’. It should also be noted that the request for paternity leave, viewed as normal in many European countries, is also viewed by him as outrageous.

Clearly, these are the opening positions in what will be a protracted wage settlement but it will be interesting to see where the final agreement is reached next year. But civil servants in Malaysia are also looking ahead to their 2015 budget settlement.

In Malaysia the talk is of the civil service bonuses which will be announced on 10 October. This too fits in with talk of whether the civil service offers value for money. What is being noted is that, whatever the public spending, less and less is being spent on new developments, technology and infrastructure. Instead the amount spent on civil service salaries over the last three years at first caught up and has now passed the amount spent on national development.

Inevitably, this has led to talk of privatising some areas including education and medical work. At present there is little consensus in Malaysia on whether this would be a good or bad thing, but the same argument is being played out in a more dramatic way thousands of miles away in the Cayman Islands.

There the President of the Chamber of Commerce has said that private enterprise will have to accept its share of the burden if the civil service is to be downsized. He was responding to a recent report by Ernst & Young which recommended the closure or amalgamation of more than a dozen government agencies. Specific areas targeted include public parks, quantity surveying and project management. It also recommends outsourcing all the central IT work, citing many other countries which now outsource their IT.

The issue is that 1,000 jobs could be affected. To a larger nation that may not sound like much, but in the Cayman Islands unemployment currently stands at around 1,800. So to increase the total by over 50% would be a programme with significant social outcomes for the islands.

The government is considering the report, and considering offering some financial incentives to private enterprise. Private companies would have to agree to take on a worker for a set period once they had been made redundant from the public sector.

Clearly, ‘one size fits all’ does not work when discussing the common issue of making the civil service more efficient around the globe.

About Graham Scott

Graham is an experienced editor and publisher and an award-winning writer. He has travelled extensively and is interested in world cultures.

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