Sat | Dec 9, 2023

Argument of attracting ‘brightest and best’ narrows focus

Published:Friday | May 26, 2023 | 1:00 AM


Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke announced massive hike in parliamentarians’ salaries, one of the reasons given was to attract and retain the brightest and best in politics. This clearly suggests the brightest and best are not attracted or retained.

When was the last exodus or most recent resignations of parliamentarians because of low salaries or other reasons, as is the case with nurses and teachers?

Given the extremely fierce competition to enter representational politics and the large number of career politicians, it would be instructive to know Dr Clarke’s criteria for ‘brightest and best’, and how nurses and teachers are rated accordingly.

Who would you place in charge of your enterprise, average competent managers who are accountable or the ‘brightest and best’ managers without any accountability? But what if it’s the country’s economy, should there be a similar concern for accountability? It is often observed that with brilliant minds in any system with low or no accountability the likelihood is increased people will exploit its weaknesses for personal gains and much easier conceal misdeeds. Dr Clarke recently said on TVJ’s All Angles there is still no system implemented for performance evaluation of parliamentarians, seven years after it was promised.

I think judges, top civil servants, ministers, parliamentarians and public sector leaders should be well compensated without ignoring the plight of other professionals and civil servants. People at the top are naturally paid more. But the finance minister should remain mindful that the strength of a building is not achieved by focusing mainly on the roof. If primary school principals are paid more, but the teachers are poorly compensated or are demotivated, as they have to teach in congested classrooms with shortage of learning resources, then poor education outcome is expected.

Human resources are of paramount importance, but the available tools and environment in which people function are crucial for performance. The best chefs cannot prepare curry goat or pepper steak without curry powder or pepper. And if a bus can only travel 20 miles per hour because of transmission defect, a pay hike or employing a better driver will not make the bus go much faster when the solution is to fix the transmission.

Governance and public service are team efforts. People’s competence is only one of many factors interacting to determine efficiency and productivity. Remuneration is crucial, but equally important are the vision, philosophy, policies, accountability and the regulatory frameworks to ensure and improve efficiency and increase productivity in the public sector.