The following is a statement from the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC) in light of ongoing public disapproval of substantial salary increases for political leaders:
“The Jamaica Chamber of Commerce supports the ongoing efforts to streamline the system for the remuneration in the public sector (including the political directorate).
Such systemic reform has been sorely needed for decades and if properly implemented could go a long way towards improving our socio-economic outcomes. The herculean effort to implement a transformational system as well as how it is executed says a lot about the national culture that we are trying to build. Any such systemic change has the possibility for both good and bad outcomes and not all concerned will benefit equally. As often happens, the bad obscures the good when it comes to the unfortunate – but somewhat understandable – prevailing low trust environment with respect to public governance in our country.
Ideally, we would have preferred that an effective public education program was substantially advanced before the promulgation of such dramatically varied readjustments and increases as the government has announced. Much greater transparency around matters such as this is almost as important as the solution itself, as we have seen time and time again. Especially after the announcement of the increases to parliamentarians, questions abound about the reasonableness of those increases relative to our socioeconomic position versus other countries of comparable size and economic challenges.
This is exacerbated by the longstanding unkept promises of accountability. Based on a recent poll conducted, these questions are central to the concerns of our membership on this issue. Perhaps there are answers that we have yet to hear, but what is apparent is that to implement such increases before deliverables have been defined and accountability measures established and communicated, is not the message we want to send to our people.
We acknowledge the prime minister’s attempt to demonstrate empathy by opting to defer his specific salary increase, however we would urge a different approach. The primary issue of outrage, as we see it, is one directed at the increases for the political leadership, just after the same leadership adamantly appealed to public sector workers to take less than even they (the leadership) acknowledge should objectively be due, “for the good of the nation”.
If we are trying to inculcate a culture of prudence and delayed gratification for the sake of Jamaica, then the leadership must lead by outwardly living that message. We humbly suggest that the increases for the political leadership – including [Prime Minister Andrew Holness] – be phased over a longer period than has been proposed with a detailing of the benchmarks to be used in justifying suggested increases. It should be in line with the projected timing to move average public sector wages and to achieve specific economic targets.
Certainly, it should only be implemented after the finalisation of the accountability measures that [Holness] has spoken about. The JCC also supports the establishment of an independent body to oversee future adjustments and systemic increases.
Finally, we agree that not taking the full proposed increase by parliamentarians at this time is only symbolic and cannot materially assist those teachers, nurses and others who are struggling due to under- compensation. The converse however, of using those funds to provide such large increases for those at the top while the rank and file’s issues remain real and raw, is also symbolic; and as HR experts tell us, symbolism, if practiced long enough, becomes culture. We are confident that our leaders will choose to promote the culture that is best “for the good of our nation”.