Timing is everything
The message from the Prime Minister that there will be no increments for the next three years is a hard and unpopular one, but it is a message we need to hear as a nation. It is a good decision but it is unfortunate the way it was conveyed, and the timing of it - in the midst of a strike for more money to help buffer inflation. However, after the streets have calmed and cleared, the fact remains that the Government of Swaziland is struggling to preserve the jobs of those it already employs, let alone increase their wages.
Despite the recent SACU deposit, our government is just hanging on by its financial fingertips and the Minister of Finance has already warned that any money that could be found to pay an increment would have to be taken from other social spending programmes.
We must not forget, after all, that we have the highest public wage bill in Southern Africa and we employ as many civil servants as Rwanda – which has eleven times our population! In proper business-fashion.
The IMF has been trying to persuade the government to consider retrenching civil servants and cutting salaries, both measures which are required to lower the wage bill. Seen from this viewpoint, government has been fighting a desperate rearguard action to preserve the jobs that people already have so that their families are not left completely destitute.
The stoppage of increments for three years is a good decision, but the way the message came out of the blue does not help the nation to heed to it. Before the nation is ready to hear this message, it needs to be taken into the full extent of government’s confidence regarding the financial position that the country is in. The nation needs to believe that there is no money available and in times like these, seeing is very much believing. The Prime Minister has failed to convince his Cabinet to review Circular No. 1 of 2010 and failed to convince Parliament to accept their 10 per cent salary cuts. Now he has to succeed in convincing the civil servants, especially the teachers, that a freeze on salary raises and increments is necessary for the economic survival of this nation. How is he going to manage this?
To be honest, Government should have been preparing us for this from the beginning of the year, using the platforms for dialogue such as the Regional Smart Partnership meetings to explain to the nation how dire our situation is while, at the same time, offering solutions for discussion such as increment freezes. What we, the people, need most is reassurance – the reassurance that those in government share our concerns and have a workable plan of action to save our economy; a plan that can, and will, be implemented. So far government has failed to reassure us, but unfortunately that hasn’t diminished the need to reduce our wage bill (or at least not add to it).
And reassurance is the crux of the matter. Government has demonstrated their commitment to preserving salaries – both theirs and that of civil servants and teachers. What they have not demonstrated is a willingness to downsize in order to ask the people to downsize along with them. Let us not beat around the bush: the price of everything has gone up, a new tax system has been introduced, and is being implemented with rare vigour, and the people are entitled to feel a little abused. Moreover, Cabinet set the tone for the attitude that ‘I deserve more’ when they inflated their salaries to what they thought they were worth rather than what the country could afford to pay them. It is no surprise that others have followed this example.
Our leaders and politicians have failed to set examples of self-sacrifice in order to persuade the people to follow their lead; but this does not mean we don’t need to cut back and make sacrifices as a nation, such as accepting a three-year freeze on increments.
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