Will we pay public servants according to merit or based on politics and ethnicity?

In receiving the Commission of Inquiry report (CoI) for the public service, President David Granger stated that lazy people will receive lazy pay. I wondered then if he was calling all public servants lazy because all public servants received little or no increase in 2015 and 2016. In 2015, wages and salary increases were applicable only for the second half of the year, thereby reducing the annual pay increase to less than five per cent. In 2016, the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) has not yet given public servants an increase and the Finance Minister has cautioned public servants and the unions not to expect any large increase in salaries and benefits. I can only conclude that the President and APNU/AFC believe that public servants are lazy.
The Cabinet, even before the ink on their appointment instruments dried, gave themselves a hefty pay increase, with junior Ministers earning even more than senior People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Ministers who had been Ministers for more than a decade. I suppose they earned big pay increases because they were deemed not lazy. Yet after more than a year in Government, they have led Guyana backwards, with an economy that is in a reverse, downward trajectory, crime spiralling out of control, health, education, water and housing in crisis and business has stagnated.
APNU/AFC and their collaborators will insist that Granger was simply using an innovative way of outlining a policy to abandon the traditional across-the-board pay increases in favour of performance-based pay increases. I get it, it is just that Ministers of his Government seem exempt from performance-based remuneration.
My bigger concern is public servants now have genuine fears of whether a pay increase or not will now depend on politics and ethnicity, rather than performance. This is a genuine fear among public servants who now believe that the APNU/AFC is laying the groundwork for coercing political support, punishing those who will not dance to the APNU/AFC music, and for once again, creating an ethnically biased public service, similar to what existed under the People’s National Congress (PNC).
Performance-based pay increases is a legitimate and a sound policy direction. Implemented fairly, it could lead to greater productivity and a friendlier, more efficient and effective public service. But in the wrong hands, such a policy could be used effectively to punish those who refuse to be political activists and thugs and those whose political affiliation are non-APNU/AFC. It could be used to limit the participation of one or more ethnic groups.
The behaviour of APNU/AFC in the first year of Government reinforces the fear that performance-based policy for pay increases and promotion could be the weapon that APNU/AFC uses to cleanse the public service, not of lazy and inefficient public servants, but cleanse the public service of those they perceived as political opponents. These are not idle fears. In the first year in Government, APNU/AFC has fired hundreds of persons, simply based on their ethnicity and perceived political affiliation.
It is incontestable that the vast majority of persons who have been terminated are persons that APNU/AFC saw as supporters of the PPP. It is equally incontestable that almost 99 per cent of those who were fired were of one ethnic group. Just as happened during the 28 years of PNC authoritarianism, East Indians were targeted and many lost their jobs during APNU/AFC’s first year in Government.
Moreover, it was exposed during the 2016 Budget consideration in Parliament that more than a thousand new contracted employees were hired since May 2015. These new contracted, high-paying employees followed years of APNU/AFC chastising the PPP for employing public servants as contracted employees. This hypocrisy, as bad as it is, is not the major problem, however. The major problem is that the vast majority of the new contracted employees are from one ethnic group and almost 100 per cent affiliated to APNU/AFC.
Public servants in Guyana have reasons to be fearful of a performance-based policy, not because they are opposed to it, but because they know that those who will benefit will be those who give unqualified political support to APNU/AFC. They know that if they do not provide overt support to their political bosses they will not be able to get pay increases. They know that no matter how efficient they are, their ethnicity could be the deciding factor whether they are rewarded or not.
A vicious political culture has taken hold where politics and ethnicity mean more than efficient and effective performance as a public servant. The new policy is the blueprint to create a public service that is a creature of APNU/AFC, rather than a public service of pride, dignity, efficiency and effectiveness. It is an integral part of party paramountcy. (Please send comments to [email protected])