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The announcement by President Irfaan Ali on the last day of 2020 that his government will pay a $25,000 one-off cash grant to public servants is not enough. Apart from the amount being insufficient were the average public servant given a five percent wage/salary increase for last year they would have taken home significantly more than $25,000.
This is a poor attempt by the government to cover up its refusal to negotiate with the trade unions in the respective government agencies. Further, it exposes a government disinclined to consider the socio-economic wellbeing of some workers by throwing pittance at them while billions are spent to prop up the Guyana Sugar Corporation and create non-existent jobs.
The $25,000 is also an act of undermining the unions. Initially the government announced public servants will not receive an increase for 2020. Probably embarrassed at their hard-heartedness while they are spending money on themselves like water flowing from the Kaieteur Falls, they decided to pay the one-off grant. If this is an attempt to pull wool over people’s eyes they failed.
The $25,000 is not a wage or salary increase. Public servants are entering 2021 no better off than they were in 2020. It is back to square one and the People’s Progressive Party/Civic’s (PPP/C) policy of starving these workers. It is not a case where funding is not available to pay public servants on the same curve as done by the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change Coalition Government. Refusal by successive PPP/C governments to pay public servants decent wages and salaries dates back to the 1990s.
The strike by the public servants in 1999 which resulted in arbitration headed by Dr. Aubrey Armstrong has not yet been fully honoured. Then the government told public servants there was no money to pay them before the strike but they found the money to pay after the arbitration award was announced.
President Ali should recognise the public sector will find it difficult to attract and retain professionals when the government does not want to treat these workers as professionals and pay them deserving wages and salary. It is a fallacy to expect 100 percent performance when workers are inadequately compensated.
Last year Guyana became an oil and gas economy. Most, if not all, the transactions from this industry require government services. It follows that to provide efficient services the public sector would require skilled and competent workers to manage the revenue and other aspects pertaining to the industry. It is inhumane to ask workers to do more and pay them less.
Government should scrap all the unnecessary spending to boost their image and flatter egos and divert the money to paying decent wages and salaries in the public sector. While the President and ministers are threatening public servants about intolerance for corruption, they are not paying public servants to avoid them being corrupted.
They are many decent public servants who would rather starve than take a bribe. They are many decent public servants who will not compromise their integrity and upbringing even as they are being paid starvation wages/salaries and finding it hard to make ends meet. This decency must be nurtured and encouraged by paying a living wage. Public servants deserve it.
They should be able to pay their mortgage or rent, transportation to and from work, utility bills, monthly food bills and if possible, put aside something (saving). Many public servants find it hard, were it not for the support of loved ones overseas, to provide these necessities of life. $25,000 one-off cash grant cannot cut it. It is insufficient and a slap in the face of public servants.