Interview: Khaled Al Araj
Through what mechanisms will the government reduce the number of civil servants it employs?
KHALED AL ARAJ: The rightsizing of the workforce in civil services is one of the approaches we adopted for public sector reform in line with international best practices. The number of civil servants is expected to decrease over the next five years, as outlined in the National Transformation Programme (NTP). During the first six months of 2016 nearly 17,000 employees left the government service – mainly due to retirement – while only 4000 new employees were recruited. Moving towards more e-government practices will also enhance the rightsizing approach, with plans to provide 95% of the ministry’s services online in the future. Furthermore, a shared services model regarding transactional human resources, procurement, accounting and IT will be introduced across the public sector. This will further increase the quality of services while reducing cost.
There are several other initiatives assigned by the NTP to the Ministry of Civil Service that will lead to workforce optimisation, such as encouraging early retirement, transitioning employees to the private sector and the Tadweer initiative. The latter will allow government organisations to fill vacant positions from other government entities and hence facilitate a better overall allocation. The introduction of the new performance management system will shift civil servants from being task-oriented employees to performance-oriented ones. Finally, efforts are under way to raise the private sector’s contribution to education and health services, sectors which together represent 58% of the government workforce.
How can payroll and benefit cuts be introduced in a way that minimises the negative effects on the lives of Saudi nationals and the economy at large?
AL ARAJ: We do not intend to reduce government employees’ salaries but to enhance the efficiency of expenditures and avoid wasting resources. Public sector wage inequality is currently considered to be an issue. There are employees in certain entities getting higher salaries than their counterparts performing similar tasks in other entities. The previously approved allowances and rewards are currently under review, as some of these benefits are no longer applicable or justified. The Ministry of Civil Service is developing policies that prevent unjustified discrepancies and ensure that only those who are properly entitled to these allowances will continue to receive them. Our plan is to focus mainly on making corrections rather than reducing the current payment scheme. Any modifications will involve the active participation of all relevant authorities.
What new methods and policies will the government implement to better assess employee performance and improve efficiency?
AL ARAJ: The ministry believes that performance cannot be managed if it is not measured. Any organisation, in either the public or private sector, needs effective tools to measure the performance of its employees and ensure efficiency, effectiveness and competitiveness. Therefore, the ministry has launched the King Salman Programme for Human Resources Development, which aims to improve the performance and productivity of government employees, develop labour policies and procedures, improve the work environment and invest in leadership development. As a top priority to the programme, a performance management bylaw was issued in June 2016, making the appraisal of employees’ performance contingent on specific measurable objectives through the performance cycle – including competences that measure knowledge, skills, abilities and behavioural characteristic – and using a forced ranking approach that classifies employees into five different categories based on their performance.
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