Bloated Wage Bill Headache -Over 67K Personnel, US$23.5m Per Month -CSA Boss On Radical Cleaning Process

MONROVIA: Liberia’s public service wage bill, which is an expense of salaries and benefits to all government workers at the end of the month, and extended over the period of a year, continues to be an incurable cancer to the very health of the nation. Not only is the Liberian civil service regime chronically topsy-turvy in terms of pay parity and in many other respects, constituting a breeding ground for labor thefts and payroll scoundrels, it also continues to be immune to audits and cleansing, despite its very critical role in national productivity and economic growth. The Unity Party, which infamous policy of rightsizing and downsizing left the state bureaucracy tatters, is right back on the stand, and the current head of the Civil Service Agency (CSA), the fulcrum of the public service ecosystem, is quite upbeat to surmount the headache. How will he? The Analyst reports.

It seems the stubborn virus plaguing the Liberian civil service is now faced up with its match, the current Director-General of the Civil Service Agency (CSA), Josiah F. Joekai, Jr., who has been sounding quite passionate and revolutionary to make the difference.

Issues of bloated payroll, unequal pay for same job, ghost names, ‘double dipping’, square pecks in round holes, amongst many other issues underpinning efficiency and unproductivity of government workers have marred the CSA for quite too long.

As it stands, according to Mr. Joekai, the Boakai administration has bumped into the quagmire, inheriting what he called “an excessively bloated payroll encompassing 67,746 personnel across 103 governmental spending entities.”

According to him, the situation translates to an alarming average monthly wage expenditure of US$23,543,874.64, besides “strenuous financial burden on the government, from January 1st to December 31st, 2023 alone, we also lost US$6.1 million spent on independent consultants and consultancy firms.”

Speaking for the second time on the matter to the nation at the regular MICAT Press Briefing, the CSA boss lamented that as a result of this grave situation, “the payroll is inundated with a huge number of ghosts, unqualified individuals serving in critical positions, and individuals who did not complete their Personnel Actions Notices in keeping with the Civil Service Act, the Civil Service Standing Orders of 2012, and the Revised Human Resources Policy Manual of 2014.”

This grave situation, he added, “has significantly incapacitated the public service, weakening its performance and productivity” and requiring urgent and immediate attention.

He however assured the public that “the CSA is on course with ongoing civil service reform efforts to address these critical national issues”.

Already, Mr. Joekai reported that his team has multiple of anomalies, including approximately 19,600 civil servants across various government spending entities who were put on the government’s centralized payroll in 2019 and do not have PANs.

He added that an estimated 20,405 employees possess incomplete PANs from payroll activities from 2019.

He underscored the critical importance of PANs or Personnel Action Notices which suggests the lack of proper documentation and adherence to established procedures within the civil service.

Joekai noted that, without valid and complete PANs, employees may face uncertainties regarding their employment status, entitlements, and career progression.

“The absence or incompleteness of PANs among civil servants can have far-reaching consequences on both individuals and the overall efficiency of government operations,” he said, adding: “Some key implications include legal vulnerability, administrative inefficiencies, and lack of accountability. For example: Employees without PANs risk facing legal challenges regarding their employment rights, benefits, and responsibilities. Incomplete PANs may also lead to disputes in job classifications, salaries, and promotions.”

He further said incomplete or missing PANs make tracking and monitoring civil servants’ performance and conduct difficult. This lack of accountability can undermine transparency and integrity within the civil service.

“In light of this development,” the DG said, “the CSA has requested all Heads of government Spending Entities to ensure that employees who were added to the payroll during the period of July 2019 to December 2023, and whose status has not been regularized by the Civil Service Agency work with their respective Human Resource Directors to proceed to the Civil Service Agency and have their Personnel Action Notices (PAN) properly processed within a grace period of ninety (90) days, beginning April 2 to June 30, 2024.”

He asked the spending entities to provide a comprehensive personnel listing as a prerequisite to processing each employee’s PAN.

According to the CSA boss, the Personnel Action Notice (PAN) is the employment instrument the Civil Service Agency uses to hire, promote, replace, and/or transfer a civil servant.

Civil servants, he said, play a crucial role in the functioning of government systems and the delivery of public services and the PANs are essential documents that outline the employment status, responsibilities, and benefits of individual employees.

Lifting Freeze on HR Operations

The CSA chief recalled that on 16 February 2024, the Civil Service Agency, under the direction of Mr. Alfred Drosaye, then Officer-in-Charge, in collaboration with the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, temporarily froze select human resource operations.

The measure, he asserted, was necessary to maintain order in how spending entities moved staff around, especially when most entities were still controlled by officers-in-charge.

“We will not lift the entire freeze,” he averred. “Today, we are lifting the freeze only for direct replacement. The freeze on new hires and transfers will be lifted after the General Auditing Commission (GAC) conducts the Payroll Compliance Audit.

“The Civil Service Agency has reached this decision because a significant percentage of GoL Spending Entities has been staffed with the appropriate statutory heads.”

Joekai also reminded heads of spending entities that in reference to Chapters 3 & 4 of the Standing Orders for the Civil Service, 2012, all the following human resource movements must meet the approval of the Director-General before implementation: Intra & inter-agency transfers; Promotions or demotions; Direct replacements and Change of employee’s payroll account details.

With the exception of the last bullet point listed supra, he said, “all human resource actions must duly be processed using the appropriate Personnel Action Notices (PAN) as required by Section 35 of the Civil Service Revised Human Resource Policy Manual of September 2014.”

Further Actions for Payroll Clean-up

Meanwhile DG Joekai has announced a couple of actions towards cleaning government payroll.

The Civil Service Agency recorded 27 direct replacements in December, he divulged, stating further that this category primarily includes instances where existing employees departed from their roles for reasons such as death, resignation, or transfer to other departments.

To ensure continuity and efficiency in operations, he announced, “spending entities can replace these departing individuals with candidates possessing the requisite skills and expertise at the same salary as the departing employees.”

He said the direct replacement processes were executed through the official CSA email chain and Personnel Action Notices (PAN) as the law requires.

Mr. Joekai also reported that 16 employees were processed through reinstatement. Reinstatement typically involves returning employees from serving a suspension for abandonment, political leave, and issues of insubordination and attendance.

After being blocked by the CSA, he said, the concerned spending entity will request that the offending employee be reinstated and removed from “blocked” after the punishment period expires. This action is directly communicated to the CSA through a formal communication addressed to the Director-General.

Mr. said because the CSA is mandated to monitor all civil servants’ performance, attendance is critical to ensure the evaluation of performance.

“Accordingly, the Civil Service Standing Orders Section 5.1.2 all Agency Heads shall maintain attendance records and submit a monthly report to the Agency (CSA) on the approved Revised Attendance Report Form. The Attendance Report Form shall reach the Agency (CSA) on or before the tenth day of the month following the period covered by the report.”

This form can be obtained in soft copy by your Human Resource Directors (HR) from the Research Strategic Planning, Monitoring & Evaluation Division at the CSA.

However, many spending entities are either not reporting timely or are not reporting at all. In this regard, the CSA will, as of April 2024, hold HRs accountable for not submitting attendance reports in accordance with the law.

The CSA has blocked and removed 41 individuals representing ghosts who were illegally on the Liberia Land Authority Payroll from the payroll.

We have meticulously drafted comprehensive policy guidelines to transform the selection, employment, and management of independent consultants and consultancy firms across the government. This policy, the Cabinet will review and adopt the policy, after which it will be formally launched by His Excellency, President Joseph Nyuma Boakai, Sr., marking a significant departure from the immediate past corrupt consultancy practices.

The Government of Liberia, led by His Excellency President Joseph Nyuma Boakai, Sr., is steadfast in its commitment to transparency, accountability, and good governance in public finance management. Therefore, the CSA is fully committed and dedicated to attaining the ARREST Agenda and will take all the necessary steps in accordance with the law to reform and professionalize the Public Service for improved performance and productivity.

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