In a recent televised interview The Deputy President asserted, quiet correctly that the country’s wage bill is far too high. He further suggested that the solution to this would be to freeze salary increments for all civil servants as a mechanism to address it. I would like to contest his perception of the probable solution. Is freezing civil servants wage bill a sure mechanism of fostering economic growth or does it just end at that; a low wage bill for the country (of course with the confounding ripple effects of an unmotivated workforce).
First of all I chose to wonder why such a statement would be made with such finality at a time when tax payers are paying a lot of money to sustain the Salaries and Remunerations Commission. The statement from the outset implies that the work of this commission is done and dusted since they cannot recommend increments and of course you realize the effect of recommending salary cuts on any of the cadres. Why should we then elect to pay such a commission and engage it on a full time basis while the decision seems to have been made? The paradox of the situation is that, the commission meant to downsize wage bill is itself, by inference, an unnecessary addition to the escalation of the same since the statement by His Excellency the Deputy President renders it redundant. And for sure, they cannot recommend their own disbandment.
For a country that has its eyes set towards achieving economic emancipation, judged by the gusto the new government has decided to correct most of the errors from the past, I must be fair to note that they indeed do present a great break from the past. Our wage bill is unreasonably high. There is urgent need to address this with keenness and pragmatism and neatly lay out strategies that would see us achieve an amicable bare minimum. This must be looked at within a broader context of issues and every attempt made to avoid simplistic inferences and conclusion. The cause-affect analysis has to be well comprehended too.
The single most important contribution to the economy is the Kenyan people and its dedicated workforce. It will be prudent therefore to assume that increasing the output of our workers should result in an improved GDP. What we need to lower this wage percentage of the total GDP should practically focus on the denominator and to a much less extent the numerator. Efforts should be put in place to encourage and compensate increased output, to reward workers’ productivity and set down a cascade of motivated and productive workers in competition not only with themselves but with set targets. Attempts to decrease the numerator, which in this case is the wage bill, will have confounding effects on the productivity of the workforce and subsequently obliterate any conceived positive effect.
The seduction to direct inferences is very tempting. The failure to recognize the impact brought by the social pillars of our economy is also extremely fanciful. The bottom line effect would be to assume that these ‘non important’ sectors, whose effects to the economy are less than direct, can be ignored and we get away with it. For instance what is the impact of teachers, accountants, nurses and doctors on the economy? These immeasurable contributors are likely to suffer from this kind of ‘direct-relation’ mindset.
If we are to look at the stratification of the wage cadres, we do find some astonishing ironies; too many redundant commissions and commissioners. In addition to that, our leaders do not seem to live by the rules that they create. We are all too aware how our members of parliament maneuvered a pay rise and concealed it in hazy details. A recent study by the UK-based independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) and IMF showed that Kenya MPs come second in global salary ranking. The government will still pay this. So who really should take the blame for these lopsided comparatives? Condemning the Civil servants because they are meek suggests a notion of anti-poor policies. The leadership of the land must live by their own rules, we must advocate for equal pay for an equal day’s work irrespective of the social status.
The conception that the Government pays better than the private sector is actually a semantic gymnastics; the actual statement should be –some private sector players’ pay poorer than the government. We cannot use a positive comparative when we are analyzing dismal performance. The reason for this must also be laid bare. While the government’s main aim is to build the economy and develop the country, the private sectors’ main drive is to maximize on profits. As a result they cannot be vilified for hiring the cheapest human resource. The government however must be disparaged for a poor minimum wage and for a wide wage disparity. These are very important indicators in a country. These two sectors cannot be compared using the same indicators.
The move to freeze salary hikes must be viewed holistically and should not be applied selectively. At the same time parallel efforts must be rolled out to address the high cost of living. Choosing to start on one and leaving the other behind would be akin to setting out to row with a paddle and going for the boat later. We cannot have a rising cost of living with a diminishing remuneration. In the same breath, we cannot vilify the very resource concerned with improving the country’s productivity and await positive results on the other end. We only get out what we put it, methinks.