ARE THERE FAT CATS WITHIN THE AFC?
The AFC is fast becoming known as Axing Fat Cats or being Against Fat Cats. This is following its decision to propose deep cuts to the 2012 Budget so as to pare the government bureaucracy of what it deems as high paid or super salaried employees.
The AFC, however, is going to have a difficult task of convincing the Guyanese people that its real motive was not about getting even with the PPP leadership which had expelled one of its leaders and forced another into political exile. The AFC will have a difficult job of convincing the Guyanese people that it is not into vindictive, spiteful and malicious politics, and that its objections to the fat cats is really a ruse to get at certain individuals within the administration.
It order to convince the Guyanese people that it is not being spiteful, it will have to first establish just what it means by a fat cat. When is a government employee a fat cat? What level of salary can be considered super-salaries and how does the AFC distinguish between a super salaried employee and one earning competitive wages?
The AFC has not addressed this issue as yet. It has not established quantitative measures as to how it classifies fat cats. During the debates, what certain individuals such as permanent secretaries and government engineers earn has been highlighted. And by no stretch of the imagination can these be deemed as fat cats.
Of course one of the targets of the proposed budget cuts is contract employees. During the debate on the estimates of expenditure for the Ministry of Housing and Water, questions were asked about the contract employees at that ministry. In the answer, it was revealed that there were two engineers who were being paid a mere $150,000 per month. Now surely these cannot be fat cats? In fact they are poor cats because they are obviously being paid below market rates.
The AFC lost a great deal of credibility when it initially proposed deep cuts for three ministries when it seemingly did not have the information to make an informed analysis of the employment costs at these ministries.
In its attempt to pare the Budget and release resources for other purposes, the AFC needs to undertake a proper analysis based on facts and not guesstimates.
But before it does so, the AFC has to decide just what it considers a fat cat. In so doing it runs a political risk since it will open itself to scrutiny about whether within its ranks there are fat cats whose combined income from their professional income along with their parliamentary salaries and benefits would also place them in the bracket of being super salaried. In other words is the AFC All Fat Cats?
If the combined personal income of the AFC parliamentarians is above the threshold it sets for government contract employees, will it propose cuts to the income of parliamentarians and the other benefits they receive so as to be consistent. In short, if it is found that there are fat cats within parliament based on their combined personal income as well as their income as parliamentarians, is the AFC willing to ask them to take a cut in their parliamentary stipend?
The AFC would first, therefore, need to establish its definition of fat cats. It should then disabuse those members of the public who are likely to feel that the AFC is really out to get those leaders of the PPP, especially those with whom certain leaders of the AFC have had run-ins, and who still hold public office. The AFC has to convince the public that it is not into using this issue of budget cuts to settle political scores.
It makes little sense for the AFC to be concentrating on fat cats. The AFC cannot reduce the salaries of those whom it deems fat cats.
It can force a reduction in the total amount allotted for the payment of wages within a ministry or agency, but the specific cuts have to be made by the government whose prerogative it is to determine who works for it and who does not.
The AFC cannot be naïve enough to believe that the government is going to reduce the salaries of its fat cats so as to slice the overall public service wage bill. Does the AFC really believe that the government is going to dismiss those political appointees and party faithful within the government? Does the AFC really believe that the technical staff within the government is going to be cut because of reduced appropriations? The AFC must be joking if it believes this.
The ones who are going to feel the squeeze are not the fat cats but the lower paid employees. Instead of pruning the budget of excess fat, the AFC may end up degutting the State sector of the very workers it is attempting to help by freeing up more resources.
If it wants to help the ordinary workers, it cannot do so by simply slashing the wages provisions for the respective ministries. It has to negotiate with the government on these wage bills and demonstrate that by cutting the fat cats, more monies can be found to help the lower paid staff.
And it can show this commitment by proposing cuts to parliamentary stipends and allowances for parliamentarians whose income are already high due to their professional occupations.