Will pay rise bring better governance? Photo: PM Images
THE government has decided to raise the salary and allowances of the government employees by July 2009 if possible. It has ordered a seven member committee of secretaries, headed by the cabinet secretary, to report back within 45 days with their opinion as to how best the recommendations of the Pay Commission can be implemented, keeping in mind the cost of living, inflation, and the capacity of the government exchequer to take the load of additional expenses required.
The Pay Commission has recommended a minimum basic salary of Tk.4,000 per month for the lowest rung and Tk.45,000 for the highest one together with increase in other allowances, which will mean a pay hike of almost hundred percent. The increase will raise the salary bill of government employees to Tk.33,000 crore per year, requiring the government exchequer to provide an additional fund of Tk.8,500 crore out of tax payer's money.
Compared to the government's revenue earning target of Tk.80,000 crore for the next fiscal year, the salary bill of government employees (TK.33,000 crore) is certainly high. But it is true that the government servants' salary in relation to present day cost of living is too low to maintain even a modest living.
If we want good governance, we ought to have a good administrative set up manned by efficient, meritorious and reasonably honest persons. To that end, there is no alternative to increasing their salary and allowances to a reasonable level. The recommendation of the Pay Commission in that respect is, in my view, fair and reasonable.
Their proposal to address the huge wastage of money on the government transport pool is noteworthy. The proposal to bring the government employees within the tax network is commendable. It was a preposterous decision in the past to keep the government employees outside the tax network. That there has been gross misuse of vehicles, incurring huge financial loss to the government exchequer, is an open secret.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has very rightly asked the review committee to see two things in particular: One is how best they can reduce the gap between the lowest and the highest rungs of the pay ladder. The other is to ensure that the prices of essential items do not go beyond the buying capacity of common men because of the pay hike. The review committee will have to seriously look into these matters and come out with a pragmatic solution.
The government employees are underpaid. This is true. But there is another side of the coin. Many of them are corrupt. Some are highly corrupt. Some of them have made fortunes by abusing state power. There is a common saying that even the tables and chairs of our government offices take bribe.
Now the question is, is it because they cannot have two meals a day after meeting their house rent bill with the meager salary they get -- not to mention children's education, health care and other family obligations -- that they are forced to resort to corrupt practices? There could be many reasons for a person to be corrupt. Poor salary is certainly one of the main reasons.
There is another aspect of the issue -- the size of the administrative machinery. The general perception is that our government machinery is oversized and over-staffed. There are reportedly many government employees who have no job in their office except chewing paan and discussing politics.
We are not sure whether these two important issues -- corruption in government offices and size of the administration -- have been addressed by the Pay Commission. Against the backdrop of a deep global economic recession that has already started knocking at our door, it is high time that the policy makers in the government have a close look into the matter and take remedial measures, sooner rather than later.
There can be no argument on the necessity of administrative reform in the country. It is, in fact, long overdue. The immediate past caretaker government had rightly or wrongly launched a number of reform programs. True, some of them backfired, but it is also true that some proved quite productive. The reform of the Election Commission and the electoral process, for example, was a major success. It is not known why they did not feel the urgency of carrying out the administrative reform, which they could have probably done more efficiently than anybody else.
The government will be well advised to set up an administrative reform commission (ARC) whose main objective would be to offer the country an efficient administrative set up with a reasonably clean image and free of colonial legacy, that can help the political leadership fulfill its promise of becoming a middle income group country by 2021. The ARC can work in tandem with the Pay Commission, or for that matter with the review committee, to strike a balance between pay and productivity of a government employee.
Capt. Husain Imam is a retired merchant navy officer.