The public sector is the largest formal employer of labour in Africa. On average, 60% of the working population formally employed is to be found in the public sector. Here, in each African country, you will find hundreds of thousands of teachers, medical and administrative staff, policemen and women, the army, agricultural workers, construction and transport sector employees and so on.
The public sector is not only the biggest employer of labour, it is also the most important provider of services. In Tanzania for example, 60% of government pay-roll goes to the education sector; and over 90% of African populations depend on medical services provided by the state. A robust and efficient public sector is absolutely vital if Africa is to grow its economy and come anywhere near Nepad's target of 7% annual growth.
The role of the public sector goes far beyond the limitations of the work place. State employees are often the only breadwinners in their families. Their salaries provide for the day-to-day living of their dependents, pay school fees, medical expenses and try to cater to the thousand and one needs that all families have.
Yet, hitherto, this vital labour force has been left largely unprotected against the ravages of HIV/Aids. Unlike the developed world, there are no national social or health insurance schemes in African countries. Those who fall ill or an impacted in any way by Aids in the family, are left to their own devices.
The result is that public sectors are left severely weakened. Vacancies go unfilled. Time and money invested in training goes to waste. The quality of service delivered, especially in education and health, is often poor as the sectors are overstretched. This creates a vicious cycle--weak public sector performance leads to poor private sector results. This leads to low domestic investment and little or no foreign investment. The cycle of poverty becomes entrenched.
There can be no doubt, therefore, that some sort of intervention is desperately needed to provide a measure of security to workers in Africa's public sector.
This was the theme of what has now been acknowledged as an historic symposium which was held at the end of May in the capital of Tanzania, Dar es Salaam.
The high-powered seminar was organised by the German Technical Agency, for Cooperation (GTZ), the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the World Bank and Georgetown University (Washington, US). Delegations from 10 countries--eight from Africa and one each from the Philippines and Paraguay participated.
One of the aims was to see how the vicious cycle--poverty leading to Aids leading to poverty--could be broken. A way forward, said Dr Assia Brandrup-Lukanow, director of GTZ's health, education and social protection division, is to follow the example of the private sector and design Workplace Policies and Programmes (WPP) for the public sector.
"The loss of productivity and absenteeism due to the direct or indirect effects of HIV/Aids over the past years have become so tangible that many private and international companies have taken on the challenge of halting the further spread of Aids by introducing comprehensive policies for their staff and communities. These policies include prevention, detection, treatment and care,"...