To whom much is given much is expected. Invariably, to whom much is expected, much definitely should be also be given.
The salary of the Sierra Leonean worker especially in public service is appalling. So much so that when international organisations recruit local staff here they pay them a scornfully abysmal pay.
I do not believe a decent salary is necessarily an antidote for corruption; otherwise the menace would be more common among the heartlessly-paid in society than among the big men and women. But I definitely believe a low salary nourishes the intent for graft. A good pay takes away sympathy for officials who decide to be corrupt. The poor civil servant who admits to a corrupt practice pleading that he stole to pay his children’s school fees or feed them, is bound to attract more sympathy than the minister who loots the kitty to satisfy his insatiable thirst for affluence.
I have not yet seen President Ernest Bai Koroma’s asset declaration form to know what he owns. But I definitely believe Sierra Leoneans have a bloated impression of his wealth, never mind his having been an insurance broker before entering politics. Paying him a monthly salary of Le 4 million (less than $1,500) unleashes him on corrupt businesspeople and exposes him to backhanders. And for a man who told a commercial airliner “no, thank you” when it offered to buy tickets to fly his children, he deserves a lot more.
In an apparent bid to address this travesty of reality, a bill was yesterday tabled in parliament. Among other things, it aims to increase the salary of the president and the vice president. If the bill is passed as it is, the president will get Le 25 million a month and the vice president Le 20 million. If any of them dies in office, their spouse will receive nearly Le 20 million (in the case of the First Lady/First Gentleman) and Le 15 million in the case of the VP’s wife/husband. And on, and on and on.
While I will deal with the bill in its entirety later, I do not see anything wrong in increasing the salaries of the president and his vice president from the ridiculously low level at present. But I see everything wrong in increasing their salary by 500% at a go, without regard to the salary condition of the general public service.
It was President Ernest Bai Koroma who just a couple of weeks ago lashed out at civil servants for being “lackadaisical”. How true! But how true also that one reason for that is definitely because of their laughable pay and condition of service, with some of them taking home less than $ 70 a month. Before you mistake that to read $ 700, I mean SEVENTY dollars.
The president and his/her vice president get all their bills paid for him by the tax payer – from feeding to lodging, from clothing to fuel for their fleet to telephone. With virtually no tax paid by them, it is a bit difficult to understand therefore how the same tax payer should part with such an amount.
One consideration for a pay rise is an improvement in the revenue base of the country. But ours is a country that is donor-driven. How will the donor community react if we increase by 500% the salary of the president and his vice? Adversely, of course.
Worse and more insulting is the retroactive effect the bill seeks to have. In what looks like a ploy aimed at appeasing SLPP parliamentarians to vote for the bill because it involves their own former leader, if passed, the law will take effect from April 1996 when Tejan Kabbah came into office. Calculate that backlog for someone who is a retired UN diplomat with an attractive bank account that includes his late former wife’s pension (who was also UN senior diplomat); a pension he collected until he remarried early this year. That is surely an account that will make Bill Gates fumble.
With the passing of the Anti Corruption Bill which, hopefully, will curtail corruption and save billions of badly-need Leones for the kitty, the conventional thinking is that more and more resources can be saved to cushion the effect of such a pay rise. But there are tens of thousands of other public service workers whose survival is as blighted as their children’s future is bleak.
Who does not know the rise in a house rent these days? Who needs reminding that Sierra Leone has hardly put any mechanisms in place to cushion the effect of the current global hardship that is biting hard? Who needs to be told that we are living under reduced circumstance? And for the rest of the public service, the servants bear the brunt of the expenses, which is not the case of the president and his vice president.
Parliamentarians should refrain from being partisan. They should not vote for the bill unaltered because they belong to his political party. Nor vote against it saying he does not deserve a pay rise just because they belong to another political party. I think Le 15 million is reasonable for the president and Le 10 million for the vice president. Bearing in mind only that the current global trend in relation to their livelihood, rests more on the head of the tax payer than on their.
Alongside that, a substantial pay rise should be considered for the rest of the public service. Otherwise there will be general disenchantment against the presidency, saying they care for themselves alone. With less than one year in office, that is a feeling too costly and can only get costlier. The rank and file supporters of the president and his party will stoutly defend it. But the middle ground voter, who may have voted the president, will be put off by it. Trust me Mr President! Scrutinise the bill MPs! But remember that we surely need a pay rise for the president and the vice president. By Umaru Fofana