Malawi President, Joyce Banda
In line with the severe economic challenges facing most countries throughout the world, in May last year, the then newly elected president of France, François Hollande, and his Cabinet took a 30 per cent cut in their salaries.
The 2008 global economic crisis continues to aggravate dangerous structural imbalances in economies throughout the world and governments are still scrambling to stablise economies and get them back on a path of growth and development. However, it has become the norm for governments to symbolically identify with the problems faced by their peoples.
As such, the still-wealthy French government isn’t the only one that has sought to show solidarity with the people in these austere times. Just last month, Sauli Niinisto, president of Finland, another wealthy European state, announced that he will be taking a 20 per cent pay cut. Affluent Bermuda’s newly elected government under the leadership of Premier Craig Cannonier and her 12-member Cabinet took a 10 per cent reduction in salaries. As the premier put it in his post-election victory announcement last December, “We cannot expect Bermudians to tighten their belts without their leaders doing the same. Sacrifice must be shared.”
Former Prime Minister Bruce Golding understood this principle and in April 2009, mere months after the global economic meltdown threw an already broken Jamaican economy into a vicious tailspin, cut his own salary by 15 per cent, with colleague government MPs taking a 10 per cent cut. The Opposition, led by Portia Simpson Miller, then refused to follow suit.
British Prime Minister David Cameron, upon assuming office, chopped his and the salaries of his ministers by five per cent and moved decisively with economic reform initiatives. And just last year California Governor Jerry Brown and state legislators had to absorb a five per cent pay cut as California grapples with a gnawing fiscal deficit.
Africa, whose politicians are known for crass excess, is slowly coming around to the realities, too. Kenya’s Salaries and Remuneration Commission, a government agency that determines and reviews pay for public-sector employees, earlier this month recommended the near halving of the new president’s salary and broad salary cuts for lawmakers and governors.
Kenya’s Minister of Finance Robinson Githae points out that 80 per cent of all revenues collected goes to public-sector salaries, in part stifling the economy. Sounds familiar? Malawi, under a newly elected reformist president, Joyce Banda, and her vice-president, Khumbo Kachali, late last year took a 30 per cent pay cut to show she was willing to sacrifice amid austerity.
One would have hoped that the somewhat overhyped, peculiar yet imperative address to the people of Jamaica last Monday by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and Finance Minister Dr Peter Phillips would have listed concrete measures to tighten her Government’s own belts in what, for Jamaica, is a truly chronic economic and fiscal mess. After all, our economic problems are far worse than the countries spoken of earlier.
Instead, Jamaicans were subjected to another debt-exchange programme, a long-known public-sector wage freeze, and dreams of getting some major developmental projects off the ground soon, among other sweet nothings.
To add insult to injury, the Government landed a J$16-billion tax package, bringing to J$40 billion the total in taxes announced this fiscal year.
Most Jamaicans are seized of the economic difficulties and know that things will be more difficult than they usually are, yet the Government has failed for close to 14 months to give the people confidence that it knows what it’s doing.
Now while Jamaica is in the midst of an economic conundrum that ranks us among the worst in the world, two Cabinet ministers and one minister of state saw it fit to party the time away at carnival in Trinidad. One of those ministers is responsible for the critical energy portfolio which is in the midst of absolute chaos, resulting in three private-sector lobby groups, prompting the Government to make clear action in 30 days.
Add to the Trinidad carnival Jamaican ministerial frolic in a 20-member Cabinet, the purchase of 16 luxury SUVs for ministers, an army of multimillion-dollar consultants and advisers, wasteful spending on Olympic promotional activities in London amounting to more than J$140 million.
Amid the extravagance, the net international reserves have halved in a year, dropping from US$2 billion; the exchange rate has collapsed to J$95:US$1, resulting in higher cost of living. And while the economy flaps about in recession, more and more Jamaicans perceive the present lot in Government to be a non-sacrificing bunch of partygoing procrastinators and hypocrites.
Prime Minister Simpson Miller needs to put her foot down, demonstrate true leadership and make credible moves to tighten her Government’s loosening belt. Sacrifice isn’t a one-way street.