By: Dr. Assan Jallow
I am left worried and concerned having heard the proposed submission made by the Hon. Minister of Finance before deputies at the National Assembly for scrutiny and possible adoption on the draft report of total government revenue and expenditure projections for 2019 to increase basic salaries of civil servants by 50% and pensioners 100%. I wondered what necessitated this 360° magnum leap and intended increase move as the announcement of this news was ill-timed and have the dangers of a possible looming crisis in the public service and a locked down on workers’ morale if the proposal backfire. It came at a bad time and proposals of such nature shouldn’t be placed before the public domain without been properly look at in a form of a conducted empirical study to assess the health of the economy and the sustainability of the public wage bill. It is expedient to note that conducting an empirical economic research would have served as a fitting mechanism in designing issued-based policies for any proposals of the government. Hasten to say, it serves as a compliment of action, a way of understanding our problems and finding alternate means to change, improve and innovate for the better across the national divide. Research can lead to more effective action, and vice versa, too. Action can be a great learning experience for a researcher, especially collective action. It can help us deal with some of the blinkers we are talking about in nation-building. It is time to practice applied economics in our thoughts of minds and proposed actions, and avoid taking or making a hasty or haphazard presentation of proposed ideas on the binary lenses of table or desk analysis that are not base on facts, but rather on perceptions to score a political point.This will save us the time of not entertaining certain things of critical national concerns on face value.
Therefore, let no judge me wrong as I am not against any proposed pay increase, but more concern about its ramifications to our economy. Civil servants deserve every possible pay increase, considering the prevailing economic realities on the ground. I understand that the government intends to pursue a structural civil service reforms all geared to increase productivity and effective quality services to the public. However, the proposal is not realistic as the trajectory of our economic and financial base as a country cannot sustain it. As a country, 60- 70% of our budget is spend in funding personnel emoluments which is unacceptable. And the proposed 50% salary increase is way beyond the standard cap for a developing country like ours. We are aware that we have one of the least pay structures for public servants, hence becoming an unattractive pool to attract talents, coupled with high attrition rate.
Since the government focus is to transform the civil service, any such policy of intent should be directed in adopting the role of an entrepreneurial state in partnership with the private sector to create prospective job market for the teeming unemployed young population. Therefore, I proposed the following as a strategy to empower, develop and give the civil servant a competitive position to cushion the high cost of living and growing market shocks on goods and services:
- Streamlining the civil service, hence making it lean, smaller, effective, efficient and smarter with the overarching objective of ending the open employment entity of political connections or familial relations. We have seen every Kumba, Pateh and Samba is hired without the due process or not passing through the exhaustive norms of the employment laws as stipulated under the rulebook of the Public Service Commission. There is the definite need to end the politicization of the civil service.
- Training and capacity building programs that are geared to upskill the civil servants with the required skill-sets, not on the forms of organized workshops or traveling abroad to attend seminars and fill their per-diem purses at the expense of the public
- Revamping the pay structure to put greater emphasis on pay for performance
- Provision of basic, quality and affordable healthcare delivery services to help attend to the health needs of the citizens and help inoculate our children in the event of major outbreak of diseases
- Provision of better insurance coverage and effective, and efficient social services and programmes of lifting thousands out of poverty through providing housing schemes to the civil servants where they can be allocated with moved in apartments or houses and be paying monthly mortgage fees that are affordable and reasonable, say 20 -50 years housing agreement.
- Investing in education to promote entrepreneurship development and innovation to disrupt the market and provide steady growth income and employment opportunities for all Gambians
- Pursue pragmatic policy intervention and evaluations through the vehicle of public-private partnerships to encourage business investments in the private sector as a means of generating employment opportunities and prosperity rather than the products of dogma, ideology or unworkable economic theory. The private sector is burdened with an elephant-tier of taxes, hence constricting e growth and employment in the economy.
These are the kind of anticipated proposals that should be presented to the public domain so that that expert opinions can be sought and way forward identified and strategized.
From an economic point of view, I oppose the proposal by been an advocate for fiscal discipline in the realm of prudent budget allocations to maintain a healthy, balanced and sustainable fiscus. It is unsustainable and does not provide any prospective avenue of increasing the civil servants purchasing powers against rising food crises and price hikes as the extent statutory labor laws are obsolete and need to be reviewed to accommodate the current economic realities in the country. Time for us all as citizens of conscience to get engaged or be involved in actual policy proposals and discussions to critique, to better make well-informed choices in our development parameters.