A seasonal palliative

The issue of a more efficient, more effective public service is unquestionably one of the more frequently debated subjects in Guyana today. The central debating point has to do with the nexus between the emoluments afforded public servants and improving service delivery.

By public servants we mean those employees of ministries and departments of government, commonly described as ‘traditional public servants’ as well as other categories of state-employed persons like policemen and women, other sections of the disciplined services, teachers, nurses and doctors.

For obvious reasons the issue of public servants’ pay is unlikely to go away until it is finally settled. The reality is that the rest of the nation depends to an overwhelming extent on the services offered by the aforementioned categories of state employees. Each time that the issue of service delivery arises the matter of the nexus between pay and performance surfaces. Better pay does not guarantee better performance; what it does, however, is to better position those in charge to demand higher standards and to manage in a manner that provides a greater assurance that that demand will be met.

When one talks to public servants, including some members of the disciplined services, nurses and teachers one often gets a sense of deep-seated frustration arising out of a dichotomy between the magnitude of their tasks and what they regard as the paucity of their rewards. There are inevitable frustrations associated with contemplating the gap between responsibilities and rewards.

Until such time as the Public Service Commission of Inquiry completes its work and makes its recommendations to government, attempts to deal with this issue will comprise mostly stop-gap measures. Even now, we have no clear idea as to when the work of the COI will be completed since, beyond taking evidence, there will presumably have to be some sort of evaluation of the mass of material accumulated preparatory to the compilation of a set of recommendations to the government. Nor should we assume that the implementation of those recommendations as tendered will be a fait accompli. Those will have to be studied and weighed carefully before they are pronounced upon. All of this will take time, apart from which other critical considerations are bound to arise when it comes to the crunch issue of better pay.

Whilst all of this is happening the pressures associated with the dichotomy between pay and performance and between reward and responsibility continue to manifest themselves, and since there can be no question of waiting for some moment in the near or distant future to fix the problem in its totality, there will, of necessity, arise various interim measures aimed at responding to what is bound to be periods of high expectation, one of those being Christmas.

It is in that context that the recent announcement by President Granger that public servants will receive some sort of (seasonal) payout must be seen. There would have been considerable disappointment amongst public servants if some sort of seasonal ‘top up’ were not forthcoming and the government knew it. In fact, people would almost certainly have harked back to the ministers’ pay rise of a few months ago.

Of course, the fact that there was no immediate commitment from the President in the matter of the extent of the payout could well mean that the process of crunching the numbers is, even at this stage, not yet complete.

This is a far from ideal manner in which to address the issue of public servants’ pay, even though the government might argue that its approach of examining the public service with a level of comprehensiveness that goes beyond pay is the preferred long-term approach to the problem. Here, of course, there is the likelihood of the substantive problem growing worse before it gets better. In this regard, government might argue that its choices are limited.

So what we are left with is yet another worrisome holding position, in which public servants have been given a palliative which, however welcome, falls far short of anything even remotely resembling a remedy. We must hope that the next official intervention in the matter of the public service as it relates to pay and performance is a more pleasing, more permanent one.

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