Cadillacs, Cadillacs, Volkswagens... and others
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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...
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
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
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?
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
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.
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.
(Back to top)