New pay scales
When an author of Oscar Wilde's stature could say, "A cheque is the only argument I recognise," he merely switched from his loyalty to philosophy over to the practicality of being money-wise. What would other mortals then do except follow in his footsteps!
If a politico-administrative process streams into a positive outcome, both the proceedings and the end-result are to be greeted, and where necessary, objectively praised and critiqued. The painstaking efforts going into proposing, finalising, and adopting the eight National Pay Commission recommendations have had three milestones: Farashuddin-led Commission took up the job on October 24, 2013, submitted its proposals in late December 2014 and the Cabinet approved for implementation to the extent desired by the government in early September 2015.
There's no point crunching figures along the 20 grades top-down salary structure. You know too well that the salary slabs have been nearly doubled for 6th to 20th grades and those of other grades have been more than doubled. The increase in the first category is 91 percent and in the second 105 percent.
These relate to basic salaries only with even the top notch fetching well below six figures i.e. one lakh only. When allowances and perks are added, the total at the top works out to a fairly large sum of money.
The public officials grumbling over the private sector's market-driven, freely negotiated very high levels of compensation packages, perhaps can take comfort from closing in on the gaps with their private counterparts, though the power factor is the exclusive preserve of government officials.
Two points need to be noted. First, even though the top brass in the private and corporate sectors have big salary packets along with perks, a huge majority of other employees under them draw from peanuts to very modest salaries. Workers' salary in the garments sector, a cornerstone for sustainable growth in the largest export sector, remains a glaring instance of exploitation.
Secondly, there is a blind spot on the new pay scales. At the entry level, the basic salary is Tk 22,000 per month. Although it may seem a quantum jump from the previous Tk 11,000 when compared with private sector start-up wage, the doubling in the government sector pales into a disincentive in terms of attracting talented and meritorious young men and women.
From where would the money come to pay for the salary bills? The finance minister has set apart 16 percent of the annual budget for this year to the tune of Tk 2.9 trillion and next year the involvement would be 18.59 percent, with 20 percent considered safe for this overhead. If the government doesn't borrow from the banks, a safety-valve from inflation then appears to be inbuilt. If it doesn't come true, you stumble against a saying by Ambrose Bierce, an American journalist, short story writer and satirist: "A budget is an orderly system for living beyond your means."
The new pay scales do away with efficiency bar, time-scales and selection grades. An official being disliked by his or her supervisory authority would have been forced to stagnate ante-efficiency bar until luck would smile on him at some future date.
The abandoning of time scale and senior selection grade has come under fire for apparently justifiable reasons. These instruments were seen as compensation for those who couldn't be promoted for lack of posts but otherwise would have been entitled to the salary and position of the next higher ranks. Now the compensation comes in the form of 5 percent compounding rate of increase to the salary per year and at that rate the salary of the person concerned would be double in 15 years.
The teachers have taken serious exception to doing away with the time scale and selection grade as higher posts are limited but aspiring incumbents are potentially large in numbers. Note though that university teachers retire at 65 where government servants do so at 59.
Even so, having regard for the high value attached to human resource development in a knowledge-based society, the teachers deserve special treatment. Remember, they contribute signally to the quality of professional graduates and post-graduates we turn out every year. Let there be time scale and selection grade for them; in fact, a special grading system may be introduced towards promoting excellence in research and manpower development in the high categories.
Here's a quote from Henry Brooks Adam, an American historian: "A teacher affects eternity; you can never tell where his influence stops."
The economic philosophy behind the new pay slabs is that it will increase purchasing power of 21 lakh recipients, raise domestic demand and consequently increase national productivity. China, Brazil and India have taken the path of galloping development through expansion of domestic markets where the international markets are behaving uncertainly.
The time is considered opportune for pay rise because international commodity prices, particularly that of oil, have been falling. If the benefits of such a drop in prices are passed on to the government functionaries, why would the consumers be at the receiving end of higher utility prices?
As servants of the people and not as their masters, the officials of the Republic are obliged to provide services according to law, free from the clutch of corruption and malpractice. The solvent government officials with other substantial benefits in kind like apartment, health insurance, and shareholding in Sonar Bangla Bank being in prospect should live up to the governing philosophy behind the new scales premised on the belief that government officials in general like to be honest, hardworking and dedicated. This is an ideal to work for in a context where postings and promotions are alleged to be auctioned behind the scene.
So, transparency is the credo. What is of paramount importance is to have an administrative reform commission to overhaul the system, root and branch so that it is competent enough to reap demographic dividends by giving the right tools and opportunities to our burgeoning young population.
The writer is Associate Editor, The Daily Star.