After the theatrics of narrowing the gap between the top and bottom rung of public servants, debates on the pay revision Bill is today narrowed to widening the gap among the top public servants.
In passing the Bill with increased pay hike to the Speaker and the Chief Justice, the finance minister has accepted that the National Assembly has violated the Parliamentary Entitlement Act.
While the National Council is likely to point out this oversight in its recommendations, it becomes incumbent on the National Assembly to take the responsibility in righting the wrong. After the National Council Chairperson again took to social media to question the decision, words are rife that some Assembly members are now mulling over amending the Entitlement Act.
Two wrongs don’t make a right. As lawmakers and elected representatives, the National Assembly members owe it to the people to not violate the very laws they make. The elected leaders have to prove that the confidence of the people has not been misplaced.
As the two houses deliberate on the Bill and delve into the details, we should be mindful of not missing the bigger picture. What initially started as pay revision for civil and public servants has now become an allowance revision for teachers and health workers. Parties outside the parliament are taking credit for the government’s recommendations. Enhanced allowances for the members of parliament make up more than the reduction they are taking in their salaries.
The discussions of narrowing the gap is now about widening the gap between the top public servants. In hijacking the pay revision deliberation and violating the Entitlement Act, the increased hike for the Speaker and the Chief Justice has also raised other questions on the hierarchy in the legislative house. The Speaker is the head of the legislature. Pitching the two houses against each other on their powers is undemocratic.
Pay revision is important and discourse on it even more. As debates on it get muddier and complex, we need to ask what is the purpose of pay revision? More than making the lives of public and civil servants comfortable, it is to help build a government that can serve the people better. Have the past pay revisions translated into improved governance and better public services? The answer is a resounding no. The persuasive argument to pay public servants better and more has also come at a time when they have been reminded of stepping up to their responsibilities.
In proposing allowances and revised raises are we also mindful of the reality of how much we can afford? The discourse should be as much on how much the government can afford and what are the country’s priorities today. All professions are important but priorities change. To begrudge the teachers and health workers for their raise given the challenges they are confronted with is unfair.
The salary revision is only a beginning. What matters more is its impact on the performance of public servants, in essence the government’s.