The Civil Service Commission has denied rumours that government employees over the age of 55 will be laid off next year after President Abdulla Yameen declared that the civil service is “overstaffed”.
“We have been informed that the civil service must be downsized significantly… If we want to increase benefits, we must have an affordable civil service,” Yameen said at a CSC event last week.
The president’s remarks came after controversial plans to abolish various departments at the finance ministry and sack more than 70 staff surfaced last week. Uncertainty over job security prompted dozens of civil servants at the ministry to go on strike last Tuesday.
After facing criticism over its silence on the issue, the CSC said in a statement yesterday that the finance ministry staff made redundant by restructuring will be dealt with in accordance with chapter five of the civil service regulations.
The CSC had declined to answer inquiries by the press over the past week.
CSC Secretary General Mohamed Faizal told The Maldives Independent today that a newly chosen acting permanent secretary “will undertake the restructuring process according to the civil service regulations.”
Ajwadh Mustafa, who previously served as the permanent secretary at the environment ministry, has been appointed the top civil servant at the finance ministry.
According to the regulations, the CSC has the authority to dissolve posts upon request by a ministry. After endorsing a revised administrative structure of an office, the commission must transfer employees to a post at the same rank.
If more than one employee is up for the same post, the commission must make appointments based on merit.
President Abdulla Yameen had meanwhile sparked controversy last week after threatening the striking finance ministry staff. “If you go on strike without working, salary deductions will be made, and other things will also happen,” he said.
But Yameen assured the civil servants that they will be transferred to other ministries. He urged the staff to engage with the government in lieu of protesting.
The ministry’s highest-ranking civil servant, Ismail Ali Manik, had resigned when he was ordered to sack the employees. The government later said that “technical staff” will be transferred to better utilise their skills and expertise.
But multiple sources who wished to remain anonymous told The Maldives Independent that the president’s office had sent a letter to then-Permanent Secretary Manik ordering him fire more than 70 staff and dissolve several crucial departments, including the budget, economic planning and internal audit departments.
Protesting staff told The Maldives Independent that they went on strike only after discussions with the CSC yielded no clarity. The commission reportedly told them it had no information of the dismissals.
The strike was only the second by civil servants in recent history.
After halting work, 136 staff members of the ministry signed a petition to the CSC, demanding a comprehensive and transparent human resource audit before making the job cuts. The petition also asked the CSC to clarify its plans on the dismissals.
Speaking at a CSC event earlier this week, Yameen also urged the commission to conduct a comprehensive human resource and performance audit of the civil service.
A large portion of the annual state budget is spent on paying salaries and allowances for more than 20,000 civil servants. Successive governments have spoken of the need for rightsizing the public sector to rein in a ballooning budget deficit.
The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party meanwhile urged Yameen not to overstep his mandate and dictate how the CSC must act.
“Our fear here is that we are reverting to the arbitrary processes that existed prior to the ratification of the 2008 constitution, where a department at the president’s office, as desired by the president, would hire and fire employees,” the party said.
The CSC was set up in 2008 and its members are appointed through the parliament rather than the executive to minimise the president’s influence over the bureaucracy.
Former Economic Minister Mahmood Raazee told The Maldives Independent last week that Yameen’s actions were part of a concerted effort to undermine state institutions.
“As you can see, the government has decided to dissolve and restructure technical departments of the Finance ministry tasked with overseeing whether policies meet fiscal responsibility standards,” he said.
The civil service, which employs more than 20,000 people needs to be downsized, he said. But “there must be a long term policy to decrease the number of civil servants, a policy that will ensure the employees are given fair chances.
“During MDP’s time in power we offered financial aid packages for civil servants for voluntary resignation. You cannot just wake up one fine day and order the dismissal of over 70 employees.”