Changes in state government: view from the inside
by Elena Shkarpova, Forbes correspondent writing about her summer internship at the National Bank of Ukraine
“Anyone can do it with money. Try to do it without!”, the former top-manager tells me about his new daily routine as a public official. “I earned UAH 6,800 for the past month, UAH 4,200 net salary and UAH 1,400 as a bonus”, he explains cheerfully.
He is not just an ordinary public official. He is a Deputy Minister of the ‘No Name’ Ministry. The Minister’s salary is actually 600 hryvnias more. “No air conditioners, slightly “antique” bathrooms, toilet paper shortage, old computers…and so on”, the Deputy Minister continues. He is unexpectedly animated considering that it’s 2 a.m., and the next day he would usually text you back early in the morning.
His motivation is clear: patriotism, ambition, fame, experience, careerism and everything that more or less goes with it.
After all, you cannot but agree that working as a Deputy Minister is sort-of cool. Even if big western companies would never hire you in the future: public service in Ukraine is a dirty business. End of story.
The ‘No Name’ Ministry has dismissed one third of its staff within the past six months, and is now facing a bureaucratic battle to raise salaries for the remaining employees. The current laws prohibit raising salaries at the cost of dismissed staff.
“I’m telling you, if I had at least 500 dollars per person, that would be something to begin with”, – the Deputy Minister shares his distress.
The Minister from another Ministry – a larger one with a bigger budget – also complains about the absence of funding for salaries. “If no wage fund is created in the near future, I have no idea how to work”, he said in a conversation to a friend of mine recently. The web-site of his Ministry has been redesigned at donors’ expense.
Another friend of mine, a top manager of a large western IT company, is ready to redesign the web-site for the National Bank of Ukraine. He promises he can find volunteers to do the work. Unlike many other ministries, the National Bank is a profitable and relatively independent state agency. They could find the money to redesign their web-site. But the problem is that people would barely understand how one can deal with web-site issues when there are the greater issues of the hryvnia exchange rate and inflation. What exactly are you spending the money on?
Speaking of the National Bank by the way: they have reduced their staff by 15 per cent in the past year, which amounts to roughly 1,600 people.
But it’s not that easy to make someone working for the public sector redundant.
To begin with, employment laws are rather complex, and it is rather complicated to dismiss someone. Many Ukrainian businesses and even the state authorities treat their employees as speechless cattle with no rights. Yet, there are lots of examples of sick leave lasting for months, everlasting lawsuits and vacations on the part of public employees unwilling to quit their jobs.
In addition, it is always uncomfortable to dismiss someone: the new top managers who measure things by KPI [Key Performance Indicators] and performance management standards strive to remain human and not merely get rid of people. Employees are often dismissed in their pre-retirement age for being incapable of handing the new responsibilities.
However, the effects are obvious: an oversized and over-bureaucratic institution, the central bank, gradually turns into an effective organization.
“Anyone can do it with money. Try to do it without!” is a phrase I will remember for a long time. I think I can understand the motivation of the present Ministers and Deputy Ministers, who did not join the public service to spread lies or steal. They spend up to 15 hours a day at their work and are driven by the vision of their country changing, although extremely slowly.
What I don’t understand is how the people whose performance is so poor could have lived that life for so long? Being paid ridiculous salaries, often for a very boring job without any possibility to develop an interesting carrier or any self-esteem or accomplish anything worthwhile to be proud of. Having no skills that could possibly be of demand in the market. What kind of a sleeping life is that to live? How will these 380,000 public officials make through the changes that Ukraine is undergoing? What will happen to them outside of this old system?
In any event, the bottom line is that there is no way back.