Imagine you run a company with 10 employees. You promise to pay each $100 a day for their work. Good to your word, at the end of the day, you do exactly that.
Shortly thereafter, however, you return, demanding back $3.20 (or 3.2 percent of their wages). They comply, but they don’t forget.
Next, for whatever reasons (could it be an election is approaching?), you decide to restore the $3.20 you had taken away.
But wait. The this on-again, off-again scenario is not yet over: You return yet again to inform your employees that you had miscalculated and actually need that $3.20 from them after all.
Now, what do you imagine your 10 employees are thinking about? Homicide?
Probably not, but a good guess would be they’re thinking about how much they hate their jobs, their bosses, and their choice of public service as a career.
While we at the Compass have been at times critical of the bloated and top-heavy civil service, there is no defensible reason to treat employees this way, especially in an environment of financial largesse, travel, and perks for those at the top of the public sector pyramid.
No well-run business would ever operate that way – the Cayman Islands government, on the other hand …
A quick reminder of recent history:
May 2008: Then-Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts agrees to fund a 3.2 percent pay increase for civil servants.
June 2010: The United Democratic Party government retracts the 3.2 percent pay raise.
March-October 2010: Some 80 civil servants receive separate pay increases.
December 2011: The 3.2 percent pay increase is granted again.
August 2012: The 3.2 percent pay increase is revoked, again.
No wonder Cayman’s civil servants are, according to Deputy Governor Franz Manderson, suffering from weakened morale. Faced with stagnant personal salaries amid the growing cost of living, promises repeatedly made and broken, and top-level public gentry reaping windfalls year after year – who wouldn’t feel demoralized?
For some perspective, the “savings” generated by reneging on the 3.2 percent pay raise amounts to about $5 million to $6 million annually. Now that’s not an insignificant amount, but it is compared to the roughly $650 million in annual public sector revenue. Further, an annual surplus of $100 million in the current budget is anticipated.
The problem with the arithmetic regarding the cost of the civil service has little to do with 3.2 percent pay increases – or cuts. The real issue is that there are far too many (nearly 6,000) “public employees” (civil servants and workers in government-owned businesses and public authorities) for a country of only 55,000 full-time residents. The number of employees, not their salaries, need to be cut.
(Privatization, where the staff move with their entities for a proscribed period of time, is the likely solution.)
In the meantime, Mr. Manderson is committed to improving not just the morale of the civil service but also its performance. He has set up a number of initiatives that encourage (and recognize) superior performance. It is his goal to elevate public service to a profession that is respected by those it serves and aspired to by those seeking a meaningful career. We support him in those efforts.
One thing we know for certain: We’re not doing anyone any good – the civil service staff or the country – by breaking payroll promises. Give our civil servants back their salary increases and, this time, let them keep them.