TBY talks to Dr. Roland Msiska, Secretary to the Cabinet of the Republic of Zambia, on the evolution of the civil service, recent reforms, and opportunities in the country.

Dr. Roland Msiska
Dr. Roland Msiska is Secretary to the Cabinet of the Republic of Zambia.

How has the civil service evolved in Zambia since independence?

Before 1964, we had a small public service, which was obviously colonial and related to the British government. After independence, there was a massive expansion. What must be noted is that until 1991 we were a one-party state, meaning the distinction between the public service and the government was not there. After 1991, it became a great challenge because now you are dealing with party politics. Part of the challenge is to get the public service to become an impartial, merit-based, professional service to move those particular arrangements forward. Where we are now, the current government's view is basically that if we are going to move forward we need to move the whole human resources management. Therefore, human resources management reform is a major reform area in which we are engaged, because the whole competitiveness of this country depends on the public service. Another important and related area is the pay structure. If you want to have the best, you have to pay them well. But if you pay people well, you must also measure that you are getting a return on your investment in terms of value. So the new salary structure must be linked to performance if we are to move the public service forward as a system. Then, the final reform in this is e-governance. We have already started working on the government-wide area network, on the hardware side, but we have also entered into an enterprise agreement with Microsoft so that we use software in a much more intelligent and coordinated way. To give you an example of what I mean, what was happening before is that each of our computers would come with different software, different prices, but we are all using Microsoft. The enterprise agreement we have entered into with Microsoft allows us to have one license for the provision of all the various components in terms of software. In addition to that, it also allows us to use ICT as a tool for transformation. The critical thing is to move away from paper, moving toward electronic which requires new laws, new behavior, and new everything. And that is why, ultimately, our transformation depends on leadership and management. So we are at a very exciting moment.

What would you say have been your biggest successes in terms of reform in the three years of the current government?

One of the key successes is that at least we have started getting a handle on our pay system. That I can confidently say, although that project is a 10-year project to restructure all the distortions. But you will find that even the language across the entire system is the same. Another success is that I believe we have achieved a consensus on a lot of the areas that were highlighted in the government's reform program, including reform of the public service commission, reform of the way the permanent secretary is appointed, and reform of the way the disciplinary procedures are done. The next stage is a translation into law of these particular elements. The other major reform is pension reform. Our pension system is not well structured in terms of age and benefits. The result is that it creates severe actuarial deficits. It is clear that we will have to move towards a singular institutional legal framework. Also, we have the lowest retirement age in the region at the moment; I think it is about the same age as us, we retire at 55. Our view is to move the retirement age to 65. With all of these things, the change management aspect becomes critical because you are trying to do reforms. It's almost like you are sailing on a ship and building it at the same time. You can't stop programs from operating, you need to pay salaries, you need to provide health services, and you need to provide all these services. But at the same time, you need to do these fundamental reforms. To balance the two is probably the key challenge for the future in my view. However, the key element is ultimately changing the culture of the public service, moving from a culture of entitlement to a culture of performance and entrepreneurship. There is a tension when you run a public service because on the one hand what makes a public service predictable is the rules and procedures, but you also understand that when you just comply to rules and procedures, innovation and creativity become a challenge. Any country where the demands for better quality services is on the increase because of the awareness of the people; you cannot afford to be rigid. But there is some time needed for the system to be predictable, and the rules and procedures must be consistent.

What perception would you like investors to have of Zambia in terms of opportunities, and where do you expect growth?

For me the areas are first, we have a premium in terms of peace. I think only a few people understand that about Zambia. We are probably some of the friendliest people that you can come across. In terms of where the greatest potential for growth is, agriculture is primary. The reason is very simple: 42% of underground water in this region is here. We also have one million hectares of land for farming blocks. The other growth area that I think one could think about is tourism. Victoria Falls is spectacular, be we have a number of amazing, pristine, and undiscovered wonders. For example, Samfya has incredibly beautiful white sand beaches. Almost no one knows this. With our current level of investment in transport, many of these areas will open up. Energy is another area, especially with the level of expansion in mining and agriculture. Our consumption of fossil fuels is increasing 20% per annum. This is a huge leap, and we are thinking about clean energy solutions, such as solar and biofuel. Our challenge is to develop a cost-reflective pricing system that allows investors to get a return, but also allows the government to expand its generation and transmission capabilities. Another area with growth potential is services. Because of our location, we could easily become a logistics hub for airlines as well as road and rail networks. Lusaka is 2 hours away from a large number of capital cities, and, of course, Zambia shares a boarder with eight countries. That makes us a unique place. Education is also an interesting growth area because we have now allowed private universities and private secondary schools. If you look at our numbers, how many children are moving from primary to secondary school and secondary to university, there is a large gap. And I see this gap as an extraordinary opportunity.

What does the Golden Jubilee mean for you and what is your vision for the next 50 years?

The first generation of post independence Zambians focused on the aim of getting our political freedom. Since that time we have had a very good system of change from one regime to the other without bloodshed. My view is the next generation just needs to consolidate the democratic gains and focus on socioeconomic development. We must increase our middle class, we must create more wealth, and we must create more jobs. This generation, the one that starts from October 24 and moves forward, will be judged on how well we transform the potential we have been speaking about in the last 50 years into wealth and jobs equality for all.