Kristen Gyles | Society of inequity: ‘Look out fi yuh cheese!’
The furore surrounding the inordinate salary increases being awarded to the political directorate will only last for the usual nine days. And the throng of politicians who stand to benefit from the massive salary hikes only need to wait on Jamaicans to get tired of beating up their gums to continue their lives on their newly found wealth.
I was given this stern reminder recently by someone who seemed more fed up with our ‘culture of outcries’ than the apparent abuse of power. Much of their grouse also had to do with the supposed lack of ‘substance’ behind much of the protesting.
The criticism has made a strong impression on me, so I have chosen to do a three-part series explaining exactly what is wrong with the justification given by the government for the $1.7 billion in salary increases over three years (approximately 300 persons) and the likely negative impacts. I am starting with the latter.
The government is likely to pay dearly for the announced increases. I am not referring to any political fallout or decline in votes at the next general election. Those may not be unlikely outcomes, but what I am referring to is the impact the salary increases are already having on worker morale across the country, and by extension, on the country’s overall output. With a GDP per capita ranging from US$4,500 to US$6,000 in recent years, Jamaica already has one of the worst-performing economies in the Caribbean. The deliberate widening of the wealth gap through the recently announced salary hikes is likely to contribute to a worsening of this, indirectly.
SPIRITS ARE LOW
Faces are long and stern, spirits are low and the mood has shifted. Many no longer feel any motivation to work. Since the announcement of doubled and tripled salaries for those already at the top of the food chain, I have been engaged in conversations where persons have expressed that they will be doing nothing more than the bare minimum to collect their pay. After all, they are not the recipients of the 100 to 250 per cent salary increases that have been dished out to those at the helm of their professions and to members of the political directorate. The rationale, whether accepted consciously or subconsciously by these persons, is that they are paid little because their contributions mean little. And if their contributions mean so little, then on what basis should they care any more than ‘little’ about performing a job that hardly matters anyway?
Nonchalance and indifference on the job are the path many are choosing. Fewer and fewer are willing to go the extra mile for anyone and more and more are choosing to disconnect mentally from the seemingly rigged employment system.
I have realised, though, that the Jamaicans who seem most undisturbed by this, and all other allegations of misgovernance by our politicians, have a different mindset than that of the average disgruntled citizen. Their mindset is typically one that asks questions like “How can I join the ranks of the ‘haves’ and leave the ‘have-nots’ behind?” or “How can I become the next king on the chess board?” Their priority is beating the system – not ‘wasting’ time trying to fix it. This sense of individualism is actually the very mindset that stunts our collective growth.
Although it must be quite comfortable and peaceful to think only about self-aggrandisement, it just isn’t the type of thinking that helps the country move forward. And perhaps this is why the country isn’t moving forward at the pace that it ought to – individualism has become the order of the day and nation-building and service are now seen as the path of choice for a baboon.
On the matter of the excessive increases our politicians have set for themselves, I recently had a conversation with someone with this very mindset. The conversation ended with them saying that at the end of the day, everyone just has to look out for their own ‘cheddar’. In other words, chase after your own money, just as our leaders chase after theirs. Unfortunately, in present-day Jamaica, a focus on self-enrichment is now what constitutes common sense. And where does that leave us? In a jungle characterised by the survival of the fittest where those who lack the mental or cognitive fortitude to manoeuvre their way into the most lucrative opportunities get left behind. Sad, right?
Fortunately for the government, the opposition has demonstrated an equal ambivalence towards the governance and ethical issues raised as a result of the increases. With the typical after-the-fact type of analysis and hindsight bias that we have come to know the opposition for, the calls from the opposition for a rollback are a bit too late now to be seen as sincere as opposed to reactive. So, not only does much of the working class feel slapped in the face on account of the excessive increases, they feel a loss of hope altogether since the nation’s leaders – on both sides of the political divide – appear clueless as to what an abuse of power looks like.
What continues to stifle the country’s productivity is a lack of motivation by the workers on the ground. It seems one can hardly even glean meaningful information over the phone from so many government agencies without either being put on hold to listen to a 10-minute flute song or being snubbed totally. But … how do we raise the standard of performance when so many across the public sector feel dispirited and discouraged?
Kristen Gyles is a free-thinking public affairs opinionator. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.