By Girma Siyefu Maru
In my commentary, headlined “Propaganda Zeroes Salary Increment” (Volume 15, Number 743, June 27, 2014), I used the phrases “government employees” and “civil servants” interchangeably to explain my position about the economic reasons for possible inflation related to the recently announced salary adjustment. Lately, however, I found it was wrong to use “government employees” and “civil servants” interchangeably.
I do not know how many of us clearly know the distinction between “government employees” and “civil servants”. In my view, the disappointing salary increment is a result of the different meanings to these names.
The politicians and bureaucrats at the civil service ministry and the Ministry of Finance & Economic Development (MoFED) were not in the same page in working out the salary adjustment. The bureaucrats have prepared a salary increment based on their definition of civil servants.
But the politician has dragged this salary adjustment to include government employees and beyond. Hence, the current salary adjustment is eroded not only by inflation, but also the scrambling due to the different definitions of names.
At the outset, unofficial sources leaked information that the salary increment has been expected to be at the range of 70pc to 100pc, the higher percentage going to low-earning civil servants. This was really sensible.
But following the wide-running expectation sparked by this information, the government officially rejected the information. Unlike the usual behavior of the EPRDF government, the denunciation came from a relatively by low-profile minister
Why does EPRDF government muddled into such confusion?
For me, this muddling is due to lack of clarity in defining what constitute civil servants.
Are all civil servants government employees?
Not at all! Just after the announcement of the salary adjustment by the Prime Minister, a serious challenge overwhelmed the political corridor on whether to include the military or not. If this salary adjustment scheme is to include the military, it will not be for civil servants, but rather to all government employees.
That is why the expected increment reduced almost by half from the expected and leaked information. I presume the military took the slice from the civil servants.
After the surprise announcement of the salary adjustment, one of my friend, a journalist, asked me, “Does this adjustment include the military?” My answer was a prompt, no.
I said this because the prime minister, on the Civil Service Day, said that the increment is for civil servants. I said so also because I know there were salary adjustment to the military without any propaganda, based on organizational restructuring within the military and above all the salary scale and benefit scheme for the military is significantly different from the civil servants.
I do not see any good reason to mix up the civil service and the military. Later, however, I came to know that the salary increment includes the military. This is as a result of the possible expected grievance from the military that pushed the politicians to reduce a good share from the civil servant to distribute to the military.
That is why the current salary increment is not for civil servants but to all government employees and beyond. Sadly, it makes none of them happy.
This political decision was disclosed by the senior minister, Sufian Ahmed, at the Parliament session in his budget defense (not in the budget speech) in response for the question raised by one of the Members of Parliament (MPs), possibly a pre-designed question. In my unofficial discussion with some MPs regarding the current salary adjustment, however, they have failed to understand the clear distinction between government employees and civil servants.
Worse is that they have considered themselves as part of the government employee and claim to get salary adjustment. For sure, they will get the salary increment. Unfortunately, even we, ‘elected’ representatives of the people, consider ourselves as government employees. It is shame on us!
Whatsoever the reasons for this small amount of salary adjustment, the civil servants are not happy.
Why is this salary adjustment disgusting?
Obviously, it does not compensate the eroded purchasing power of take-home money in the past three years. It also could not be taken as an opportunity for sharing the fruits of a 10-year consecutive double digit growth.
The government has claimed that we have become a nation with a per capita income of 550 dollars. But I do not know why the government wants to pay its employees well below the annual per capita income.
If it is true that we as a nation have achieved a per capita income of 550 dollars, then, the minimum salary after tax (net salary) should not be less than 1,000 Br. Anything less than this is exploitation by the government.
By the same token, then, the government should double the salary of low-earning government employees. I believe this is a justified inquiry.
Even then, it seems unfair to compare government and private employees at the professional level, not to say high-earning employees. Regarding the professional salary scale in the private sector, it is far above the government scale, even after the current salary adjustment.
The current proposed salary is less than one third of the private sector.
How could high-level professionals stay in the government sector, then, without engaging in unlawful activities that generate money?
What makes it all confusing is that the government, in principle, expects to retain high caliber professionals to pursue its duty of assuring standards and qualities, while paying them so much lower than their peers in the private sector.
My point is that the current salary increment is not professionally done. It is not well-thought and consulted with stakeholders.
Had it been professionally done, it would have satisfied at least few groups. This unanimous contention of the increment, even before it reaches the pocket of government employees, coupled with possible inflation, relates to poor planning.
How could we get good governance out of disappointed public servants, then?
I do not expect satisfactory public service from discouraged civil servants.
– Girma Seifu Maru is a Member of Parliament (MP) from MEDREK. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Girma Siyefu Maru