Kaieteur News – There is a story about a secretary of the chief executive officer of a government corporation. This was in the early 1980s. The government was broke and it was forced into dismissing thousands of workers. The government coined a name for these mass dismissals. It called it “retrenchment.”
The secretary felt important. She was the one assigned to type the names of those to be dismissed.
The workers were anxious about their fate and kept probing her. She felt special. She walked around with an air of superiority because she would know beforehand who would be let go.
She was “Miss Important.” She became rude to the staff telling them that they would know their fate when they received their retrenchment letters.
About midday, one Friday, the chief executive passed to her the list of those to be retrenched. He asked her to type it up and place it on the Notice Board. At the time, there were some workers near her desk. She ordered them out of the room, saying that she had to do important and confidential work.
She began to type up the list, slowly but methodically, smiling all along when she noticed that some workers she disliked were due to be axed. She took her time.
Suddenly, there was a loud crashing sound. The people in the outer office rushed in to find that the secretary had collapsed on the floor. There in bold letters, on the list, was her name.
Her boss heard the thud when she collapsed and rushed to her assistance. He sent for some smelling salts. She was revived. The boss decided that it was too much to have her type her own name on the retrenchment list. He decided to break the news to her as best as he could.
He turned to her and said, “Miss, I do not know how we are going to do without you, but come next Monday we are going to try.” She fainted again.
It is estimated that more than 30,000 workers public service workers were retrenched. They were thrown on the breadline during a most difficult time when workers were barely earning enough to eat; some were already subsisting on two meals per days.
But the retrenchment though having severe implications for the livelihoods of the workers, had a positive impact of efficiency within the public service. The same amount of work was now being easily done by less staff.
The PNC was then the ruling party. It had overstaffed the public service, mainly with party loyalists and this contributed to suppressing wages because the government simply could not afford substantial wage increases in the context of an oversized bureaucracy.
The overstaffing was a result from political patrimony. A party card then was a passport to employment. If you had a party card you could easily secure employment and many joined the party just for the benefits. Burnham himself admitted that the party card was being abused and that many persons were joining the party in order to secure benefits.
If you had a party card, you had an excellent chance of gaining public service employment. But if you knew a big-one within the party, you were set. Many of the concubines – short-term and long-term – were sent to government agencies where they were given generous employment.
In one instance, a lady returned from overseas and was handed a senior managerial position. The General Manager was called and told that he should employ her. He had no say and did not check on her experience or qualifications.
She started out with a high position and an attractive salary and benefits. Years later, it was discovered that she did not even have a first degree and may have barely met the entry-level requirements. Yet, she had been employed in a senior position above even managers with years of service and with excellent qualifications.
The PNC/R returned to office in 2015 as the lead of the APNU+AFC Coalition. And it returned to its habit of overstaffing the public service thereby making it inefficient and a drain on the public purse.
Dr. Tarron Khemraj did an analysis of the government’s overdraft. He found that the PPP/C government inherited in August 2020 an overdraft at the Bank of Guyana of G$92.8B as opposed to G$9.3B in 2014 just prior to demitting office.
And in his analysis he sought to examine the link between this overdraft and employment levels in central government. What he found was that when the PPP/C left office there were 14,905 workers in central government. But within a mere three years of the APNU+AFC taking office, this had ballooned to 26,354 or an increase of 76.8 percent, while non-central government employment such as at GuySuCo declined by more than 40 percent.
The inference was that increased central government employment costs added to the pressures on the overdraft. No one has attempted to dispute this analysis.
The PPP/C therefore finds itself saddled with an overblown public service. And this means that more money has to be spent on keeping this over-bloated bureaucracy afloat. The same thing is happening in some public corporations, as for example, the Guyana Water Inc. (GWI).
This is a very difficult situation facing any government; on the one hand it has to consider the effects of dismissing workers but on the other hand unless it trims it wage bill, the economy will go into further distress.
GWI has made a decision. It will let go some 300 plus employees. It is a hard choice but the alternative is to increase water tariffs beyond what ordinary citizens can afford. This is the danger when the public sector is used as a sponge for party loyalists, hacks and concubines.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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