First, the good part.
The Andrew Holness Administration, especially under Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke must be congratulated for taking on the vexed subject of public sector compensation reform and bringing it, so far, to a reasonable end. Successive administrations throughout the years have kicked this proverbial can down the road.
Study after study from erudite personalities who have made eminent recommendations have been done, but none bore any satisfactory fruit that could be considered edible. Like a mango forced to ripen, they lacked the sugary content that makes mangos so delectable.
So when the Holness Administration decided to take on the Herculean task, they had a lot to look back on. I do not know what happens behind the hallowed walls where Cabinet policies are deliberated, but I would like to hazard the guess that the Government's decision to take on this mission was due to the steadfastness, resoluteness, and tenacity of Dr Clarke to get it done.
He approached the matter with almost a missionary zeal, notwithstanding the sleepless nights that he no doubt endured. I suspect that he had to navigate the recalcitrance of some of his colleagues, and might very well have been the right person at the right time to take on this matter and see it to a conclusion.
Now the bad, disconcerting part.
The prime minister announced that the Cabinet agonised over the decision to allow the humongous pay raise for the political directorate that the finance minister outlined in a presentation to Parliament. I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of his agony. Again, not being privy to the deliberations, I believe he and his colleagues really pored over the increased payment to the politicians. Obviously, they concluded that the inordinate amounts were just. And perhaps they are, given our long tradition of not paying our politicians and public sector workers what they truly deserve. The constant refrain has always been that the money is not available. Over the years, this excuse has caused many a politician to die in abject poverty and need.
One would have hoped that if the prime minister and his colleagues really agonised over these increases, that a better judgement and decision would have emerged from that agony than that which was disclosed to the nation. There seems to have been one dominating philosophy, at least in the mind of the prime minister, which was the straw that broke the camel's back. That is, if Jamaicans want to see good governance, then the country must be prepared to pay its servants well. The correlation between good pay and good governance or performance is often overstated. There is no guarantee that if you pay someone a handsome salary he or she will perform better in the tasks assigned. We all know of people who earn mega salaries whose performance at their jobs leave a lot to be desired. Without strict performance criteria laid out to facilitate accountability, paying someone will not necessarily motivate him or her to do a better job. He may only reason that he should be paid more.
In giving money to folks or even paying them well for jobs done, there is always the unsettling feeling that they believe they could get more. Give someone $1,000 and they believe that they could get $2,000 or more. So the problem that the Holness Cabinet faced, which was lost in the decision made, was not only the quantum of the increases but the blatant absence of the accountability criteria pegged to these increases.
The increases were given with the hope that people would automatically step up their game. I would like to see this happen, given the legendary lethargy in the public service and the rag-in-the-back pocket mentality that still seems to dominate the work ethic in the public sector. I submit, as I have written in this space before, that our abysmally low productivity index, which trails our counterparts in the Caribbean, is a direct result of this lethargy. It is not a lethargy that giving people more money will necessarily cure. If people know that they are working towards a goal and there is more to be had once the goal is accomplished, then they will step up their game, not before, except for those already motivated by a good work ethic. Trust me.
Over time, one comes to the realisation that common sense is not too common among politicians. Ask Governor Ron Desantis of Florida, and now "Brogad". In the case of Desantis, how do you wage war against the biggest private employer and taxpayer in your state because of their constitutional stance against a law which you have promulgated? But this is a subject to which we may return.
In the case of Holness, a substantial part of the agony that he said he felt had to be related to how Jamaicans, especially poorer Jamaicans, would view the increase, especially that given to politicians. Common sense would have dictated a sensitivity to these feelings. But in deference to the aforementioned dominating philosophy, they were willing to suspend good judgement with the conviction that they were on a righteous pathway — and do this, it appears, without any accountability framework in mind.
The best tact was to have phased in the payments and let the public have a chance to interrogate the decision. However, given the rationale for the increases, to do so in one fell swoop and to think there would be no uproar from the public is a failure of common sense, if not an insult to the intelligence of the Jamaican people.
I stopped in Junction, St Elizabeth, to buy a piece of yam and some sweet potatoes from some vendors sitting by the side of the road. I decided to do a quick survey of what they thought about the increases. The anger they expressed was palpable, and I wondered if this was a microcosm of what exists in the nation. It is not about us having the money to pay for the increases but the insensitivity to what people think belies the increases at a time when many are sucking salt through a wooden spoon.
The Government may hope that these reactions are mere nine-day wonders, but the resentment runs deep. They will have to return to the drawing board, certainly with well-thought-out performance criteria attached to these increases. I do not think the Jamaican people should settle for less. We do not begrudge people being paid well, but we must demand a good work ethic, with strong output for the money expended.
Continued insult to SSL Investors
As we are on the subject of accountability, has the receiver looking into the failed Stocks and Securities Limited (SSL) outfit made his report to the Financial Services Commission (FSC)? If yes, when did he do so? If he has not, what is detaining him?
We are well over four months since the investigation was launched and to date there has not been one press conference or release to say what might be going on. The beleaguered investors' woes have been met with silence. This is an insult to them and others who are duly anxious to hear what has been transpiring.
I call upon the minister of finance, who ultimately has responsibility for these matters, to say something to the Jamaican public. The silence of the Government is as deafening as it is insulting and clearly lacking in common sense. These are the kinds of things which speak to poor governance and make the gargantuan payment to the political class indigestible.
Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest, social commentator, and author of the books Finding Peace in the Midst of Life's Storms; The Self-esteem Guide to a Better Life; and Beyond Petulance: Republican Politics and the Future of America. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or email@example.com.
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