Business Page July 04, 2004

 Super Cadillacs, Cadillacs, Volkswagens... and others

Introduction

The public service in the wider definition is crucial not only to the economic well-being of the country but in human services as well. Successive governments going back to the fifties have failed to make optimum use of such a crucial sector of the economy and the country's largest group of workers.

With a large proportion of that number coming from its traditional support base, the PNC during its years in power played with, cajoled, ignored and sometimes manipulated them. The sector and its leadership played a significant role in the disruptions of the PPP government in the early sixties and are once again in a less than friendly relationship with the current government.

A proper human resource strategy has clearly eluded both the PPP and the PNC, and technocrat Dr Nanda Gopaul, head of the public service, appears in a recent interview to have ignored the lessons of the past as well as some fundamental human resource concepts, particularly in relation to salaries.

Dr Gopaul, in the face of demands for significant salary increases by the public servants said that, "You cannot expect a Cadillac lifestyle in a Volkswagen economy..." and described the real wages and working conditions of public servants as "having never been better." While the comparison of the relative situation of the public servant might be true of part of the seventies and much of the eighties, it certainly is a statement that is open to challenge in relation to the fifties and sixties.

The poor public servant in Guyana, for whom the term 'working poor' appears to have been coined, has been the subject of commiseration, vilification and study over the years. As an institution, the public service was practically destroyed by the doctrine of party paramountcy introduced by the Sophia Declaration of 1973.

Perhaps the best analysis of the consequences of party paramountcy on the public service was set out by Dr Tyrone Ferguson in his book Structural Adjustment and Good Governance: the Case of Guyana when he said, "The practical manifestations of Party paramountcy were several. Political appointees loyal to the incumbent Government became a common practice at the senior levels of the bureaucracy.

For a period in the 1970s, various layers of the administrative and professional grades were required to undergo a programme of ideological indoctrination that sought to acculturate them to the ideological, political and operational order of things. The public service also became, during the 1970s, into the 1980s, a key target for the mobilisational excesses of the ruling Party on the occasion of important national observances and other political significant events."

Dr Ferguson who as Head of the (Hoyte's) Presidential Secretariat was equally forthcoming in writing about the state and status of the public servant just prior to the structural adjustment process built into the Economic Recovery Programme, admitted that at that time the Guyana public service was in deep-rooted crisis - "a demoralised service, associated with the collapse of the traditional status and prestige that government service connoted, the absence of a professionally oriented culture of performance, the rampant shortage of skills, as well as the dramatic fall in emoluments available to government officials."

The end of party paramountcy, however, did not then and so far has not restored the public servant to the position of respect and comfort once associated with the public service. In fact the public servant bore a significant if not overwhelming share of the pain of adjustment with few corresponding trade-offs. It was only after the ERP had begun to show results that the public servants received any real rewards. Even so, as Dr Ferguson said, "As an interest group, public servants were probably the biggest overall losers under structural adjustment. They were tangibly devastated by the rigours of adjustment conditionality."

Cadillac or Prado?

But back to Dr Gopaul's unfortunate and maybe misleading figure of speech, since in Guyana it is the Prado and not the Cadillac that signifies that exclusive lifestyle and status available only to the political, business and professional elite.

The irony is that those who are living the Cadillac (or Prado) lifestyle do so largely at the expense of those others who Dr Gopaul described incorrectly as limited to the Volkswagen class. There are in fact at least four principal classes as the caption shows - Super Cadillacs, Cadillacs, Volkwagens... and others. Unfortunately despite its initial aversion to super-salaries, the administration has widened the disparity between the classes.

Cadillac government

But the Cadillac mentality also appears to drive a new interest in creating a super-structure of ministries and a coterie of consultants and advisers in the public service, particularly in the Office of the President. The number of ministries is at a historical high (twenty), whether pre or post-colonial, reversing the ERP's administrative reform programme which saw the number of ministries reduced from eighteen at the end of the Burnham era to eleven in 1991.

Can our bicycle economy afford the luxury of the creation of a Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs, or was it merely finding a retirement job for long-time party stalwart Mr Reepu Daman Persaud? And why two Ministers of Local Government and Regional Development when we have neither local government nor development? And what does Mr Harripersaud Nokta do in the mainly Amerindian hinterland regions that Ms Carolyn Rodrigues, Minister of Amerindian Affairs cannot or does not do? Yet, the President is often seen doing the work of the ministers suggesting either their incapacity or a tendency by the President to micro-manage.

Would the operations and cost of these politically-inspired ministries not be a good case for examination with a view to reform? The perquisites which go with these positions place a severe strain on the thin resources available to this impoverished nation. Has the Public Service Ministry considered the cost? Surely these represent a Cadillac style government in an economy that can barely afford bicycles - let alone Volkswagens.

But others too...

Unfortunately, it is not only in the number of ministries and therefore ministers that this extravagance is demonstrated, but perhaps more egregiously in special positions created and the salaries paid. It is so mind-boggling that one may miss the irony of the Head of the Poverty Reduction Strategy Programme (Dr Coby Frimpong) being the highest paid public employee in the country at a salary of the taxable equivalent of more that $4.5M per month. And his deputy Kevin Hogan, is not too far behind with a taxable equivalent of $3M per month.

These are the super-Cadillacs while a range of other consultants in the ordinary Cadillac class receive more paltry sums of the taxable equivalent of $600,000 to $1.5M per month. And to ensure that the super-class do not mess with Guyana dollars, their salary is denominated in US dollars. For Dr Frimpong's salary, we can get approximately forty-five heads of schools (Volkswagen) and close to 200 junior teachers (barely bicycle)! Is the PRSP unwittingly enriching a few at the expense of the rest? And why are the unions not shouting from the rooftops?

And it now seems fashionable to hold out promises of post-retirement jobs to serving public servants in a dangerously counter-productive policy. The most obvious case of this is former Commissioner of Police, Mr Laurie Lewis, and his successor Mr Floyd McDonald.

Then there is the Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr Roger Luncheon and Mr Nirmal Rekha, who is on leave while the investigation into the re-migrant vehicle scam is under way.

Dr Luncheon in terms of salary alone is worth about twenty-five public servants at the lowest end of the scale, while for Mr Rekha you would get somewhat fewer.

And in the Cadillac group there are part-time boxing promoter/pageant organiser/political activist Mr Odinga Lumumba, colleagues of the President, Manniram Prashad, Robert Persaud, Feroze Mohammed and Indranie Chanderpal and Adviser to the Minister of Education, Mr Hector Patterson.

How can the Ministry of Public Service justify paying Mr Lumumba a salary that is almost double that paid to the Prime Minister? Is the ministry convinced based on job-descriptions and assessments that the country is receiving value for money, or that the waged and unemployed in the bicycle class should be financing those in the higher classes?

Conclusion

Salary structure and relative levels - across, above and below - are important elements of a good human resource policy. It seems eons ago since Dr Jagan spoke of "lean and clean government" and lamented the "super-salaries" paid to certain public servants and technocrats in the PNC governments. Dr Jagan was himself a model of frugality and living within one's means, but yet he recognised the need to attract quality persons and the importance of a professional public service.

While Dr Jagan might have been inspired by his socialist instincts, his policy on wages would receive high marks by the human resource specialists.

As his budgets in the pre-Burnham era showed, he also recognised that the little that there was should be distributed fairly and the working class should not be left out or forgotten.

Indeed, the statement about Cadillac and lifestyles is one which Dr Jagan himself might have made with genuine conviction.

The replacement of Dr Luncheon as Head of the Public Service was intended to be more than a nominal recognition of the importance of protecting the public service from political influence. The respect which the government and society accord those engaged in public service - whether in the ministries, regions, teachers, nurses or disciplined services - signals the quality of our civility, democracy and governance. Even the best policy of the government relies on motivated, well-paid public servants for their effective delivery. It is time that the Public Service Ministry apply some human resource management techniques rather than spend time on meaningless sound-bytes.

BP acknowledges Dr Ferguson's permission to quote from his book.

 

 

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