A team from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is due in the island next week to begin discussions with Finance Minister Dr Peter Phillips and his team about a new medium-term economic programme.
Phillips has said an IMF deal will turn on three major factors - public-sector wage containment, tax reform and a sustainable path which will see a reduction of the public debt as a percentage of GDP over the medium term.
The Pension Reform Committee had its last meeting last Wednesday and will now send a report to the House for consideration. Phillips has also announced that the long overdue White Paper on tax reform will be tabled later this month, and last week the House approved the removal of 3,000 posts from the civil service.
But an issue which policymakers appear to have avoided, almost like a plague, is that of the salaries being paid to public-sector workers in relation to the quality of work being done.
The Gavel is unrepentant in the view that not only is the public sector overstaffed, but also many of the persons there lack the necessary skills to add value to the entity to which they are employed.
As a result, taxpayers have been paying a huge cost for inefficiency. There are too many persons in the public sector whose jobs amount to packing up paper clips and watching the clock; and there are too many skilled workers who are not provided with the requisite technology to allow them to be efficient. Those ills must be remedied.
Strive for efficiency
Outside of cutting public-sector posts, we do not get the feeling that the modernisation of the public sector is striving to achieve efficiency. We feel that CEOs of departments and agencies must be efficiency czars, ensuring that persons under their watch do not escape with a salary from the taxpayers and giving little in return.
There is also the need for the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee of Parliament to demand from permanent secretaries of ministries, a full inventory of the technology needs in the various agencies. And not withstanding the financial bind, the Parliament should seek to impose on these ministries how to allocate scarce resources.
At the same time, we urge the Jamaica Productivity Centre to undertake urgent research into the area of public-sector productivity and to recommend to Parliament ways to increase productivity and efficiency by those paid by taxpayers' dollars. This research should be conducted in the shortest possible time, and when tabled in Parliament, the Economy and Production Committee, which has been for the most part idle, should give it detailed consideration.
In the interim, however, we hope that Horace Dalley, the minister without portfolio in the finance ministry, who has responsibility for the public service, will give due consideration to the burden on taxpayers' pockets for inefficient service from the public sector. The question must be asked whether it is just for taxpayers to fund long leaves for public-sector workers and whether they should be beneficiaries of certain concessions. We think not.
In fact, the argument that they will go to the private sector or migrate does not wash with us. In our view, many of our public-sector workers have no other option than to work within the public sector. Their skill level would not make it through the doors of many private-sector entities, and if they do, they would be kicked out because of a lack of productivity.
Therefore, where we continue to have kittens about the magical lowering of public-sector salaries as a percentage of GDP, the time has come for us to face the cold, hard truth. The answer does not simply lie in cutting posts; it also resides in having better qualified and more efficient workers with the necessary tools to enable productivity.
Constituency Development Fund
Sitting of the House of Representatives
Public Administration & Appropriations Committee
Senate Committee on National Policy Issues