By Lamin Jobe
The inherent lack of political will on the part of political leaders for over 50 years since independence is enough reason for any right thinking person to hold on to the belief firmly that Gambian public servants are just mere garbage and once you are done with it you can throw it away in the garbage bin. It is very disturbing and disheartening to come to realize that after injecting all what is remaining in oneself in government service for over 20, 30 or 40 long years is even unable to provide a decent home for his family when all things remain equal.
The truth of the matter remains the same across the board, particularly those of the central government. Time and again, one government after the other, the same old story continues to linger- that the economy is in such a shape that it can’t sustain salary increment. This is already a house-hold tag coming from one budget speech to another.
On the contrary, we had and until now have seen increase in tax either direct or indirect almost every other year coupled with unpredictable, exorbitant and constant price hikes of basic commodities in no time as well as fare increment. Consequently, the tax burden together with the unpredictable, exorbitant and constant price hikes of basic commodities as well as fare increment happening twice or more in a year which fell heavily on civil servants is indeed, very damming, heartbreaking, sad and unacceptable.
The pace and the rate at which these changes occur in the market is very quick and steady whilst salaries remain stagnant thereby making you and I poorer and poorer by the face of time. Apparently, we are all reduced to financial borrowers from one bank to the other or from one credit union to the other through over-drafts, pre-financing etc just to provide food on the table for the coming 30 days, month-in, month-out. Thus, this is a vicious cycle that majority of civil servants found themselves trapped-in for the simple fact that is what the system so created for so long a time. And without due considerations that we too are human and we deserve a well-paid, clean- earned money in return for our services in diverse areas and for which we are hired for.
The Finance Ministry together with the office of the Secretary General must understand one thing, Gambian Public Servants have endured a lot and it appears enough is enough because we had swallowed a lot and your that decision of taking vehicles from drivers and officers based on your assumption that government can save cost in hundreds of millions by providing only a loan scheme as an alternative to civil servants without any further investigations, assessment or study which proves and validates your assumption remains a myth, a serious and a grievous one for that matter and as far as the empirical world is concern.
Our endurance, as civil servants has reached the climax due to very poor salaries which do not for decades (if not for five decades), commensurate with daily market prices and realities rendering most of them struggling and fending for their families with great burden. On top of this, what use is in providing a car loan to such a civil servant struggling to put food on the table, renting out with the family without a compound and perhaps servicing a loan?
Did you study or consider the different income earning groups within the civil service and being given government vehicle but cannot afford their own compound?
Moreover, how many civil servants are actually loan-worthy? Supposedly, it appears all civil servants on the integrated pay scale from Grades 1-12 are all not loan-worthy in terms of Basic salary per annum and for loan exceeding between three hundred thousand and four hundred thousand dalasi for at-least a better second-hand car. Is car even their preference?
I am of the conviction that, some form of preliminary assessment or study would have been the basis for your reasoning in order to reach at a better conclusion rather the mere appearance of the millions had already deceived you.
If the Finance Minister appears not to know, you as the Head of the Civil Service with your long standing experience in different offices in the Personnel Management Office knew very well the plight of civil servants from grade zero to grade 12. You equally knew that almost about 70% of all civil servants lies within this range and whose basic salaries are not more than Eighty-eight thousand dalasi (D88, 000) per annum.
And you know too- well what I implied by grade Zero. The worse civil service prejudice is found here and that is those civil servants on Daily Wages. And usually these are the ageing (old) people who under our eyes do menial jobs such as the Care-Takers, Night-Watch Men, Cleaners etc. imagine, an old man sleeping in the cold for a month only to receive few hundred dalasi for his pay. You think if only this group alone turn against you in prayers will be good for you. And as the Head, there are so many civil servants who are like this group spend restless and sleepless nights over their worrying financial situations all because, those who supposed to speak on their behalf are mute and so the ordeal and the struggle shall continue if nothing serious is being done and whilst the intellectual community within the civil service remains silent about this on-going predicament, when they are the very architects of 60% of all such development programs and activities in government.
For if the Finance Ministry is acting unwisely, in the matters of civil servants and in a bit to satisfy the demand of The Breton Wood Institutions, forgetting to note the many gross violations of human and labor rights committed against Gambian Civil Servants.
About 35% of government employees (between the grades 0-5) receive less than hundred dollars ($100) as their monthly take home, 35% (between the grades 6-9) receives between $100 and $150 and about only 5% (between grades 10-12) receives between $200-$250 monthly take home. Whilst the remaining 25% goes to cover government co-operations, parastatals or agencies- which are often on different pay system better than those of the central government. Just take a closer look at this financial and budgetary injustice.
So, on the whole, government in her own hands is responsible for reducing about 65% of her civil servants next to nothing hence they live below the poverty line and a little above the line as par international convention. Can this be a suggestion as to the explanation why existing governments couldn’t and can’t succeed in fighting poverty in The Gambia all this period?
If I may ask, where does your financial democracy lie? If within the same government, a group of civil servants are paid very well, on top of that, they can pay themselves annual bonuses, have their immediate families covered by free medical benefits only on the basis of operating as an agency or co-operation for government. And not on the basis of the level of expertise, qualification, knowledge or skills acquired. This is indeed interesting that such a group is made to triumph over the other. Better still, this creation by government through an enactment of parliament is very normal and has no social, political, financial, economical and psychological implications?
Thus, this fanfare of worrying- some financial situations amongst civil servants has led to the steady progress and creeping in of corruption of all forms and at all levels within government. This ranges from bribery, lies, professional misconduct, creating a system of cliché within and across government departments, robbing government coffers, behaving arrogantly, misuse of government property, and the list goes on.
Key amongst this list is misuse and abuse of government vehicles in a number of ways. The inability of government to at least delimit government officers in control of such vehicles in the face of appointed drivers to take charge of such vehicles made it even worse for managing and protecting government vehicles. Most of these drivers are made redundant for which their services are being hired for simply because some officers made these vehicles as their personal property and so nobody can come in-between them and the vehicle. Whatever they want to use the vehicle for or wherever they want to go with the vehicle is ok.
Government drivers must be empowered to take charge of government vehicles with some form of regulations during and after work hours, of-course with the supervision of the officer in-charge. However, what should never be compromised with the drivers are official duties of whatsoever during and after work. Drivers with all their low pay have equally contributed immensely and in no small measure towards all government success stories. So therefore, drivers supposed to be government priority at all levels and the significance of their services is such that they shall be the hardest-hit which in turn shall apparently impact negatively on all government services and businesses if that un-calculated directive is put into effect.
Again, the Finance Minister together with the Secretary General must know one thing, so many things I can’t explain for now, but one thing I can apparently suggest is that giving a vehicle to a Gambian public servant remains one of the greatest motivating factors that has helped them struggle with very poor salaries for over 50 years without any general civil disobedience regarding low pay which has also led to poor pension benefits across the central government. Many are therefore silent and seem contented with what is happening around them and therefore make no mistakes about this. You could be disappointed seriously for the simple fact that both the previous governments had tried and failed. Is the office of the Secretary General not aware of this?
Have you forgotten the line-up of government vehicles being relied upon by virtually different people of all walks of life for their facilitation back and forth to work on a daily basis within the working week? Presumably, this has further obscured government weakness of paying poor salaries to civil servants for this long without a general out-cry. Besides, it appears, this has further strengthened and consolidated government creep on highly qualified personnel working as civil servants.
Again, the likelihood of One in every ten retired civil servant in any given government department is seemingly, lobbying for a contract to stay on. This appears to be so because of the fear that one has not fulfilled one of the basic securities in the whole of one’s working life, which is, either enough savings for the rest of one’s life or a permanent place to call home.
Thus, this backlash on the part of government is heavily costing government for no good reason and yet it appears normal as thousands of jobless youths sit by.
To conclude my long analysis and interpretations of this observed phenomenon in the civil service, of which, one thing I can say with certainty is the Finance Ministry’s deliberate failure to learn lessons from the UN system in country or MRC Unit in The Gambia regarding vehicle control measures and why their vehicles last longer. Then and there you will know whether it cost them dearly or cheaply to facilitate their drivers back and forth or not.
Similarly, Government systems and instruments are not there to be manipulated by individualistic and selfish style of thinking and doing things for such could cost government dearly and more than you could imagine the mere physical figures coming from the accounting books of government could do. Besides, the fact that one is occupying a key government position might not make one a better person than anybody else; rather what matters most is the crucial decisions you take on behalf of the civil service and the rest of the Gambia and the consequential effects thereof. So your conduct as a key financial decision maker and adviser to government on matters relating to the civil service and of this magnitude should be based on proven statistical evidence and not on the basis of value-judgment.
Again, the fact that government runs a loan scheme for civil servants is still not enough or a guarantee for anybody to conclude that if you run a car loan scheme for civil servants it should address your problem of government regaining revenue on cost of vehicles. For any serious and credible conclusions to be made on that civil service loan scheme alone, a study or an assessment needs to be done first to know its impact level on civil servants on the basis of either making them better-off or worse-off.
Better still, policies, sound policies for that matter, do not evolve from a cold room over-night by few individuals; rather from across all stake-holders within and outside in order to guide, in principle its realistic ability and achievability over a time period. Therefore, all such policies of this magnitude should always be a matter of serious concern for both the offices of policy analysis unit and the secretary general.
A credible research, study or assessment should always be the driving force for a better and informed decision making process for government.
A pro-active research department be created under the purview of either the Public Service Commission or Personnel Management Office which shall be responsible for conducting, coordinating and supervising all such important researches, studies or assessments as when and where necessary for government.
Government should as a matter of fact see the need that over 60% of all better decisions of national interest stem from research findings. So research is a tool that this new Gambia cannot afford to miss.
All intellectuals within government should learn lessons from the former Jammeh government whom, most among them were pushed beyond their limits and acted wrongfully and where later battered or sacrificed. So no intellectual supposed to act as an “intellectual fool” under the eyes of any Gambian politician.
All intellectuals must embrace professionalism and high ethical standards based on truth and nothing but the truth.
The heartlessness of putting someone on a daily wage, grade 1, 2 or 3 must end. These are serious economic crimes against any individual in the eyes of the international definition of living on less than hundred dollars.