Behind the dark salary clouds a silver lining or two

So where were the public education experts when the politicians needed them as, in the case of the announcement of hefty salaries for the top echelons of the public sector, the country could not have been less prepared?

To be clear, from the outset, the salaries outlined by Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke are not the real issue. Indeed, the continuing outrage being expressed in the public domain betrays the fact that Jamaicans, in general, are not accustomed to being properly paid.

True, the Government blundered in the way the announcement was handled, coming right after the Administration stoutly made the argument that it could not afford the much smaller percentages being demanded by the civil servants.

And, even though the absolute cost to the country of the top salaries will be less than the lower salaries — because of the smaller number of people in that category — it is the optics that fired up people who have always been opposed to politicians being paid decent compensation.

If, however, one looks at the big picture, the new public sector salaries can represent a silver lining… or two.

Firstly, we should be able to recall that, in Jamaica, salaries are generally set against those paid in the public sector, with the private sector mostly topping up the figure paid by the Government. Even so, in some cases, the private sector is well behind the public sector scales.

This could mean that, over the next few years, salaries in the private sector are likely to rise in order to withstand the competition from the Government, which is the largest single employer in the country.

Put another way, these new public sector pay scales are going to drive up pay scales across the private sector, and that is a good thing, we would suggest. Workers could be on the way to receiving a liveable wage.

Secondly, Jamaica can only gain by being in a position, thanks to the new salaries, to attract highly qualified people to man the areas, especially in science, medicine, manufacturing, finance, and technology, which are critical for our development.

This is something that cannot be immediately quantified, but it cannot be too difficult to see that low-level skills, as is rampant in the public sector, cannot take us very far in handling big things such as multi-billion-dollar investment projects.

The Public Sector Reform Programme that the Government has been undertaking since the early 1990s has limped along because, while it can identify the sorely needed skills, the national treasury has never been able to hire the people to fill the positions or compete with overseas countries poaching our top brains.

Once Jamaica can retain its best skills and hire our best resources from the Diaspora — many of whom cannot wait to come home — this will represent a quantum leap. It begins with better compensation.

In the short term, the Government needs to respond to the people's concerns by immediately implementing the long-promised job description for Cabinet ministers and all the politicians who are being paid a salary, including parish councillors.

It is unreasonable to pay first then ask for improved performance after. Moreover, who is going to be responsible and what mechanism is going to be used to ensure job performance?

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