Let’s take a look at this salary increase scandal that is consuming the letters pages and social media with little let up.
First off the decision was taken by the Cabinet but there was no announcement of it at the post-Cabinet media briefing as might normally be the case. Instead it was gazetted on September 25 as is required by law and for days it went unnoticed until on October 2 The Mosquito posted the notice inciting a tidal wave of indifference. Eventually the partially vindicated Times slapped it on their front page and the subsequent outcry has been startling from all quarters although several commentators have been talking out of both sides of their mouths trying to appear both credible and loyal to the new government.
But to date there has been a stony silence from the administration save for the defiant and incautious remarks by Harmon last Wednesday as well as some confusing ones from Basil Williams. (It really needs to be approved in Parliament?) Of course Granger has been mute as he is on all contentious issues to date as part of his Teflon Presidency strategy.
So why the silence? Let’s start by asking two more questions.
Question 1 What was the motivation for the salary increases?
It would be reasonable to assume that the increase was not unanimously pushed by all the Cabinet members. There had to have been at least a few who had both political and personal reservations for rewarding themselves with such a large pay hike. However some have given up lucrative businesses and private practices to take up public office. And it is known within certain circles that at the time of naming the Cabinet there was a period when there was uncertainty over whether individuals would be available given the effective loss in personal income. Were promises made to them by Granger that they would get more soon? It is for these ministers, it appears, that the Cabinet collectively is biting the bullet and taking a political hit.
Question 2: What was the reason for such a significant increase as opposed to incremental annual increases?
That’s a no-brainer . Politics is often about timing. To take the route of incremental annual increases would bring the undesirable issue arising every twelve months. That would be madness. Furthermore no government would want to touch the issue of salary increases in the last three years of its term as elections come on the horizon. The practice is that if there are unpopular decisions to be taken that these should be done within the first year in office so by the time elections come around four years later they would be distant memories in the minds of the generally amnesiac public. (Brace therefore for decisions on Guysuco sooner rather than later) The APNU+AFC government by taking this action now is making a strategic decision and that is to take the hit from the public outcry now, rather than taking a series of decisions next year and in 2017 and later. By the time 2020 comes around how much of an issue will this salary increase be? Who can name one controversial decision made by the PPP even from last year?
So that’s why the ministers are all dumb on the pay raise. They are too busy biting bullets and hoping they can get away with it. Can they? Of course. There will be no revolt, no mass protest in the street on Thursday. Just the dozen or so diehards. And indeed in a year from now it will all be forgotten…
People may forget the specifics, but this calculated move has already used up a lot of good will among the electorate and has turned the image of a fresh new coalition into one of the same tricky bunch of self dealing politicians. And indeed come 2020, one can expect the PPP voters would still be solidly behind the man who energised their election rallies and still casts a huge shadow over this country. All He would need to do is remind a few thousand voters about this 50% increase and the ministers could happily return to their lucrative private sector jobs.
(Stabroek News photo)