By Kiana Wilburg
Finance Minister, Winston Jordan agrees that the salaries for employees at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are indeed poor. He said however, that instead of looking to the Government to make increases available from the national purse, the agency must seek innovative ways to do so on its own.
During an interview with Kaieteur News recently, the economist said that the EPA could start by revising its fees, some of which can be deemed “chicken feed.”
The Minister said, “The issue of poor salaries is one that is affecting all public servants…But I agree, the EPA does require a substantial movement in salaries. I believe that can happen gradually, progressively, if we think outside of the box. The EPA, for example, can garner significant resources by charging (better) fees for their inspection, audits and so on.”
On this note, Jordan said that the agency needs to review its fees.
“Some of the fees are chicken feed and by doing so (reviewing the fees), I am sure they can make a significant dent into the whole issue of salaries. Everybody seems to think you have to depend on the treasury, and yet still, the treasury gets some of its money from taxes. But nobody wants to see an increase in taxes…”
The Minister also stressed that the EPA is a semi-autonomous agency and that it does not have to subscribe to the salary scale used by the Public Service Commission.
MORE PAY NEEDED
Head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Dr. Vincent Adams had told this newspaper that he would petition the Government for more funds in an effort to boost the paltry pay of his officers.
His reason for doing so is premised on concerns from local and international transparency advocates that the poor salaries of EPA officers make them more susceptible to the influence of corrupt oil companies.
Dr. Adams noted that this is a serious concern of his. He said too that he notes the importance of the issue, especially since the EPA will be one of the key regulators of the oil and gas sector.
The hydrologist said, “I have not brought this particular issue to the government as yet. But our Board is aware of it, the need to have the salaries increased. When compared to the other ministries, the salaries are low. I want to change that. It must be priority for the EPA to work on retaining its workers…I have some employees who are on one-year contracts and one can’t really feel secure in such circumstances.”
Dr. Adams added, “Let me reiterate that I do agree with the concerns expressed. Bear in mind, too, that bribery is something you can never get rid of 100 percent. But given our circumstances, improving the salaries can help to make a difference. And I will be asking the government for more funds in this regard…”
Poor salaries and the absence of a pension plan are just two of the major factors deterring much needed qualified personnel from joining the Environmental Protection Agency. This was noted by Chartered Accountant and former Auditor General, Anand Goolsarran.
In his forensic audit report on the agency, Goolsarran said the EPA needs about 160 professionals to be effective but the emoluments are not adequate to attract suitably qualified and trained personnel as salary scales are similar to those of the traditional public service.
In this regard, the Chartered Accountant highlighted that the position of a legal officer attracts a salary of $262,107 per month, while the Finance Officer who is professionally qualified earns $226,362 per month. The auditor also expressed concern about the fact that Ministry of Natural Resources is overly involved in the recruitment process.
Goolsarran said, “Although the agency is semiautonomous with its own legislation and a board, there is an over-involvement by the Ministry of Natural Resources in the operations of the EPA, especially in the area of recruitment. The agency responded by stating too that the Ministry of Finance requires that the Public Service Ministry facilitate the final approval stages of recruitment, which was previously handled by the Office of the President.”
In terms of retirement benefits, the former Auditor General said that the EPA does not have a pension plan.
“As a result, staff members are recruited on a contractual basis at the same public service salary scales, and obtain a gratuity every six months. However, this can hardly be a substitute for a dedicated pension plan, whether contributory or noncontributory. Such a plan is likely to provide for a more settled organization in terms of staff recruitment and retention.”
Further to this, Goolsarran said that while most of the officers are required to be in the field, they do not benefit from duty-free concessions to assist them to acquire their own vehicles. What is also worse in Goolsarran view is the fact that the agency has a limited number of vehicles that can be used to undertake field trips. Given the age of these vehicles, operating and maintenance costs are high, said Goolsarran.
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