Prime minister fiddles while work is burning in the fields!
Published: Wednesday | April 15, 2009
Robert Wynter, Editors Forum, Feuruary 4th 2009. - Norman Grindley /Chief Photographer
Two significant events happened while I was in third form at Jamaica College. Latin was banned from our school curriculum; and the head boy, or school captain, was the future prime minister, Bruce Orette Golding. Losing Latin was much to my dismay as it was one of my favourite subjects and without it my average dropped in fourth form. Unfortunately, many persons agreed with the banishment of Latin, singing "Latin is a dead language, dead as can be; it killed the Romans and now it is killing me".
Latin remains central in our lives, however, particularly among present students and alumni of several of our high schools whom I heard shouting their respective mottos at the recently held Boys and Girls' Athletic Championships. In fact, the translations of the various mottos are always spoken in impeccable English, suggesting to me that had Latin remained, our English language passes at CXC would be that much greater.
Following are examples:(See table)
I draw the reference to Latin and to mottos, JC's in particular, as I reflect on our prime minister's reluctance to take a tough decision regarding the public sector. Prior to last Sunday's national broadcast, we were warned in no uncertain fashion that tough times are upon us and tough medicine is coming. During the less than 15 minute broadcast, we were told very little in terms of tough medicine, only about a general wage freeze for the public sector and a voluntary 15 per cent cut in his salary. The following day we were greeted with the news that three ministers were fired and one added resulting in a net reduction of two.
On the face of it, there was also a reduction of one ministry as the ministries headed by former ministers Smith and Mullings were merged to become Ministry of Mining and Energy. This has also resulted in the reduction of permanent secretaries by one, with Dr Jean Dixon appointed as director general in the Office of the Prime Minister responsible for information and telecommunications.
Having reduced the number of ministers and the number of ministries, I thought the prime minister was setting the stage for a substantial reduction in the public sector. It turned out that the chief servant has only flattered to deceive and it is déjà vu all over again.
As we all remember, former Minister Omar Davies' mea culpa suggested he overspent during 2002 in the lead-up to the general election to ensure the PNP gained its fourth term. Shortly thereafter, he admitted in Parliament that the economy was going in the wrong direction, with the fiscal deficit accelerating. In his 2003 Budget speech, he announced a whopping $14-billion tax package to slow the fiscal deficit.
However, one year later, he could not face the country with another tax package and word had circulated that approximately 10,000-15,000 public-sector workers could lose their jobs. Then union leader, Dwight Nelson came to his rescue and the famous MOU was born, with jobs being preserved and increases limited to three per cent.
It did not take a rocket scientist, a union leader or a politician to figure that this was not sustainable in the long run. I was among a very small minority who took this position. I was disappointed with private-sector leaders and others who heralded the MOU as a great achievement. History has proven me correct as the wage bill has ballooned and we are in no better position than we were in 2003; this so even before the effects of the economic/global crisis.
Dr Davies and his former prime ministers Patterson and Simpson Miller failed to take the tough decisions necessary to cut the public service. Prime Minister Golding now finds himself in a more difficult predicament as the fiscal pressures are much greater.
There are many public-sector workers adding no value. However, they are being paid and preventing children's access to learning materials, the sick from accessing health care and the destitute from accessing social support. By removing those who are adding no value, there will be little or no negative impact on the quality of service delivery. On the contrary, it is the untenable level of bureaucracy which is preventing improvements in the public sector's effectiveness.
Aggregate wage freeze
The prime minister announced an aggregate wage freeze ($115b) and said he does not want to put anybody out of work. In his utterances, he is literally asking the unions to decide between cutting workers and raising individual wages of those that remain (1,000 for each $1.5b wage increase). Correct me if I am wrong, but it is not the Unions who should make this decision, it is the prime minister. He and his team can then meet with the unions to decide how this should be done in the best interest of all.
The fact is that the public sector is heavily overstaffed and needs to be cut. Keeping the status quo is in the best interest of the union whose mission is job preservation; it is in the interest of those workers adding no value and those workers performing poorly. It is also in the interest of the prime minister as he keeps an eye on the next by-election or general election; or so he might think. Cutting the public sector is in the best interest of those workers who are adding value and performing well and should be rewarded and motivated with appropriate increases. It is also in the best interest of the country as a lean and efficient public sector will better support growth and development. Let it be clear that I do not support a simple across-the-board cut, rather a careful analysis needs to be done and the appropriate decisions taken.
In a recent Caribbean Development Bank-organised) round-table discussion, PIOJ Director General, Dr Wesley Hughes, said the main thing the Government needs to do is to cut its voracious appetite for debt by cutting expenditure. Being politically correct, Dr Hughes stopped just short of suggesting a cut in the public sector.
In the mid-1980s, then Prime Minister Seaga took the tough decision to cut some 30,000 workers from the public sector. While this was initially painful, Jamaica witnessed meaningful GDP growth from 1987 through to 1991, with statistically no growth (less then the three per cent margin of error) in each of the 17 years since. I am sure Mr Seaga knew the political risk; however, he did what was best for the country. Mr Golding was a member of the Cabinet at that time and today he clearly understands the political risks and they are weighing heavily on his mind. However, tough times require tough leadership and the prime minister cannot fiddle as Nero did while Rome was burning. Instead, he must cast his mind back to his Jamaica College days, realise that in Jamaica work is burning in the fields and do what is best for his country; not what is best for his party or for himself. Fervet Opus in Campis!
Robert C. Wynter is a management consultant. Send feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org. -
|School||Latin motto||English translation|
|Fortes in fide et opere||Steadfast in faith and||good works|
|Perstare et praestare||Preserve and excel|
|Cornwall College||Disce aut discede||Learn or leave|
|Fervet opus in campis||Work is burning in the||field|
|Kingston College||Fortis cadere cedere||The||brave may fall|
|non potest||but never yield|
|Merl Grove High||Labour omnia vincit||Hard work overcomes||all difficulties|
|Age quod agis||Whatever you do, do it well|