Garth Rattray | Metachronous political directorate salary increase
Jamaicans were flabbergasted when massive salary increases for our “political directorate” (the people responsible for managing our country) were announced.
The citizenry saw nothing wrong with increasing their salaries, but the sudden and steep climb was mind-boggling, especially at a time when the country is undergoing serious socio-economic problems, an ailing healthcare system, rampant crime, wanton murders, and an apprehensive populace.
The massive salary hike lacked solidarity with our numerous citizens who are earning far less than they are worth, or who voluntarily discount their services and labour because their fellow Jamaicans simply cannot afford to adequately remunerate them. Sequestered within the innermost regions of the minds of most Jamaicans is the fear that, despite a lifetime of hard work and sacrifice, they could easily end up destitute because they barely subsist on enough to pay bills. People convince themselves that they will manage somehow but, eventually, the high cost of living vaporises the cloud of self-deception that they create as a psychological coping mechanism in these tough times.
When Dr Clarke, minister of finance and the public service, expounded on the statement on salaries for the executive and judiciary, he opened with his introductory remarks, went through the historical background of public sector pay increases, and then put it in context with the levels of compensation adjustment in the public service. The minister reminded us that the public sector restructuring had already “… resulted in significant movement in the salary scales for a majority of persons who work in the public service”. Then the paper delved into the existing salary adjustments for government-paid ancillary supervisors, skilled artisans, and experienced [maintenance] mechanics. It stated salary increases of up to 360 per cent among that cohort.
LAID THE FOUNDATION
Having laid the foundation for increasing the salaries of the executive and the judiciary, the minister explained that the restructured public sector compensation was meant to … “maintain and retain the talent, at all levels, to run the public bureaucracy – both at the political and administrative levels”. In essence, the minister intends to compete with high-end private sector wages to attract new blood into the public sector and retain the type of public sector employee that can stand toe to toe with the best that the private sector has to offer. Failing that, he believes that the entire [public sector] organisation will be in jeopardy.
Dr Clarke then proceeded to list the salary increases. He took care to only mention the percentage salary difference between various government/public sector posts and we were left to calculate the individual percentage salary increases. In most circumstances, the perks previously enjoyed by public servants will be lost. The minister alluded to the high salaries having the effect of shielding against external influences. But, in so doing he inadvertently intimated that public officials are susceptible to corruption.
Beginning with the announcement of substantially increased salaries for the [deserving] judiciary strategically exposed the citizenry to the concept of huge salary increases. As expected, the declaration of similar increases for the political directorate immediately followed. However, most Jamaicans did not believe that the political directorate (the leaders who are directly responsible for the state of our nation) are as deserving of such sudden and massive salary increases.
Dr Clarke winded down by reiterating that, “We believe this to be in the best interest of Jamaica. It is not about who occupies these positions today, it is about the quality Jamaica will be able to attract and retain in positions of political leadership at all levels, tomorrow and beyond.” However, although the political directorate should not be impoverished because they serve their country, that degree of salary incentivisation may attract blatantly self-serving leaders.
A BRILLIANT VISIONARY?
People are asking – is Dr Clarke a brilliant visionary, or is he feathering the nests of the political directorate? Why grant increases now when several critical issues with the compensation packages for some essential public sector employees remain unresolved? Since the political directorate will achieve economic equivalence with top-notch private sector managers, will they (at last) be held accountable for their actions or inactions? Will they be continually assessed by key performance indicators? Bearing in mind that the political directorate very rarely voluntarily resign when faced with dishonour, dishonesty, or disgrace, will a pathway for impeachment be established?
Generally, politicians are not trained professionals/experts in the ministries that they manage, and therefore cannot parallel high-powered private sector executives that are eminently qualified in their respective fields, yet it is intended to compensate them as if they are trained professionals/experts. Can we expect superlative innovation, efficiency, and accountability? Additionally, the announced compensation package for the political directorate has left many Jamaicans wondering, if our political directorate needs that magnitude of remuneration to survive, how are regular citizens managing? If everyone suddenly demanded realistic compensation for work, the country’s economy would undoubtedly collapse. Apart from merchants (who buy, mark up, and sell goods), most citizens price their wares and services based on the prevailing economic climate.
The furore has pierced the armour of the powers that be; but any backpedalling is too late because the citizenry has seen the writing on the wall. They now realise that they have been living in a fool’s paradise and yearn for alleviation of their distress and sacrifice. I therefore envision incremental increases in the cost of goods and services as remuneration for the hard work performed by the [obviously] inadequately compensated citizens.