Fiji Sun

SUVA, Fiji (Oct. 20) – Ever since it was elected, the present Fiji Government has struggled with the sheer size of a Civil Service that gobbles up some 80 percent of its income in wages, salaries and staff benefits. There have been hiring freezes in the past but the Civil Service has defied all efforts to help it reduce weight.

Now the Public Service Commission has come up with a bold plan to slash the establishment from 16 departments to seven. This, it says, will be achieved through the sale of selected departments and activities that can be better managed by the private sector.

The quarantine service and the Public Works Department would be among the first to go.

Public Works has declined to put a number on what it thinks is the right size for the Civil Service but it is clear from the scope of its plan that dramatic reductions in manpower are targeted. Of course not all of those jobs will disappear, as a number of staff will be required by the private operators to provide the services required. The balancing act will be to ensure that the services are provided at prices the customers are able and willing to pay. Experience elsewhere has shown that selling the water department, for example, has not always - or even often - resulted in cheaper water.

Nevertheless, the Government was obliged to act. Its budget has mostly disappeared into the pockets of an army of civil servants in an organization that has become overblown and overweight. Its sheer size and complexity renders it all but impossible to manage productively.

In addition, the effect of such a massive bureaucracy has been to minimize the proportion of government income that can be devoted to development projects such as schools, roads and hospitals. It's a courageous plan. But it won't be easy. For example, there will be stern resistance from some if not all of the unions involved. The Government and the Public Service Commission will be well aware that the public have become accustomed to grand schemes to cut the bureaucracy down to a manageable size and are still waiting for results.

But something had to give. And even if the Government does not achieve its plan to reduce the service from 16 departments to seven in the next 18 months, anything that eases the burden on the public purse will still be more than welcome. And let's not forget those public servants who have worked long and hard and who could be out of work through no fault of their own before very long. They should be shown every consideration.

October 21, 2005


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