Opinion | Aug 9, 2013

The Worsening Of Ghana’s Wage Bill And Its Effect On Our Future Development

From the late 1960s, a lot of efforts were put in by successive governments in order to make the living standard and working conditions of the public sector worker a better one. Many governments have tried to address the salary disparities and also manage the government wage bill efficiently.

The above culminated in the formation of many commissions to address the issue. Some of such commissions are:

Mills Odoi Commission- 1967
Issifu Ali Committee- 1973
Azu Crabbe Commission- 1979
The National Committee for wage and Salary Rationalization- 1983

The Gyampoh Salary Commission- 1992.
The government having identified a number of weaknesses in the works of past commissions and committees that were set up to look at the public sector salaries and wages, adopted the Ghana Universal Salary Structure (GUSS) in 1997 with the specific goal of resolving the deepening inequities in pay within and across the public sector. The GUSS was undertaken after a nationwide job evaluation which comes out that the inequities in the system were soo much that many of the public sector workers were still wallowing in poverty. It was expected that all public sector employees will be migrated onto the GUSS and public pay levels would be improved.

Many were those who lamented that the GUSS couldn't achieve the purpose for which it was intended due to many reasons ranging from legal to will power as well as inadequacy of financial and material resource for the implementing body. As a result, the discrepancies in pay and grading continued to exist in the public sector.

In 2006, the Government of Ghana in her determination to improve public service pay as well as performance engaged the services of CoEn Consulting to begin another comprehensive grading and pay reform initiative.

They were tasked to look at the following:
Low level of public service pay
Inequalities in public service pay within and across service classifications

Multiplicity of allowances in public service
The lack of Government control over public service wage bill.

Following the recommendations from CoEn Consulting, the government of Ghana decided to adopt Single Spine Pay Policy (SSPP) as the most appropriate pay policy for the public service to promote equity and remove all forms of bottlenecks in salary administration in the Public Sector.

In November, 2009, when the government announced that a white paper was issued adopting the SSPP as the new pay policy for the public sector employees, many were those who praised their Maker and the Government for being a listening one who wants the best for its employees. Many said it was good the government was continuing from where the previous one left. It was indeed welcoming news for all of us.

Many a people never anticipated the new pay policy to raise soo much labour agitation and the everyday cry for unfair treatment from organized labour. Almost every month, we are greeted with threatening songs from one public sector employee group or more, accusing the Fair Wages and Salaries Commission (FWSC), the policy implementing body for not keeping the part of the bargain.

Many public sector employees even laid down their tools for over a month just because their market premiums or something has not been changed.

From where I sit, many are the dangers that lie ahead of our dear country Ghana if the current issue of public sector wage bill is not controlled. We have come a long way in getting the right pay policy for our public sector and yet danger is still looming in as far as our future developmental agenda is concerned.

In IMF's recent report, it warned government of possible truncation of its transformational agenda if it does not control the way and manner the wage bill is ballooning. This warning came at a time when many public sector workers were still pressing for better conditions and market related incomes.

I also think that one of the issues that was not looked at before the implementation of the policy was the capacity of the government's kitty that must take care of the payment of such wages and salaries.

Again, there was and there is still lack of proper education on the critical role that the SSPP is supposed to play. Many workers think that it is synonymous to pay increase rather than looking at it as a policy that must help addresses the problem of disparities. That is rather unfortunate and must be addressed immediately.

I am afraid to say that if the burgeoning wage bill is not controlled, all other sectors will suffer as a result. We can imagined what will happen if the monies that must be used in constructing roads, building schools, hospitals and on many other equally important projects are being used in paying wages and salaries.

In a situation whereby a country's wage bill keeps on increasing and the level of productivity increases in line, there will be no much a cause for alarm even though it may not be the best phenomenon.

We leave in a country whereby many a public worker goes to work the time he or she pleases and leave the time he or she pleases. We leave in a country where there is a clear evidence of official connivance between a group of people to share monies that they have not worked for, and we leave in a country where many workers use their official working hours to attend to their private jobs. Some use such official hours to attend funerals and parties. That is certainly not a good thing for a developing country that is competing with many other countries in the league of countries for the global resources for its development.

In a country like ours where many workers are on a free range, the only people committed are those with a clear conscience and patriotic enough to help build the country.

The SSPP is good, we have all accepted it as such but one thing that was clear at the moment of its adoption was that, it was more concern about better conditions for public employees but did not link it to productivity.

It was very appropriate that the FWSC has as part of its mandate as stated at section 2 b(iii) of the Fair Wages and Salaries Commission Act, 2007 (Act 737) 'to develop and advise Government and ensure that decisions are implemented on matters related to performance management and indicators'

Again, section 3 (j) of the same Act states that, 'To achieve its objectives, the Commission shall ensure that the balance of internal consistency, external competitiveness and employee performance are fully reflected in the public service pay system'

It is a worrying situation to have 70.1% of government revenue going into the payment of wages and salaries leaving a paltry 29% for other very vital developmental projects. If care is not taken, we will end up using every revenue generated in paying wages and salaries.

As the President stated at the forum held at the Volta Regional Capital, Ho, 'Opting out of the SSPP is not an option' and that is certainly the wish of many a Ghanaian. It is our wish that the system will be controlled, and it is also our greatest wish to see our country develop in all facets. As opting out is not an option, we must also know that truncating our developmental agenda is also not an option and we must do all we can to make things work.

If there is any time in history that Ghanaians must demand value for money from the public sector worker, that time is now. It is time to hold the public sector employee accountable because increase remuneration must go with increased responsibility.

In order for the government to control the increasing wage bill while linking it to productivity, the following measures could be adopted:

There will be the need for the government to set performance standard for all its employees so as to be able to establish a link between salaries and wages and performance.

The government must work to eliminate all loopholes from government wage bill, thus removal of ghost names and its accomplices.

The government must sign a performance contract with all its institutions and employees. Over here, codes of conduct are not enough, it must go beyond that to the strict enforcement of such agreements or codes.

As citizens too, we must demand value for money from the government while encouraging the government to tighten its revenue collection by removing the bottlenecks that militate against genuine businesses and putting concrete measures in place so as to monitor and regulate the proper collection of tax revenues.

It must be our hope and prayer that, the decisions arrived at Ho, during the forum on the sustainability of the SSPP are implemented fully without any political twist. This way, we shall all be doing our part in building the country we love to build without having to always play partisan politics with every issue.

If opting out of the SSPP is not an option as we all may agree on, then accountability and increase productivity must not be toyed with. We all have a role to play in making sure things work they way we anticipated. It is our divine and sacred calling to make things work as a country on the move, that is what those who bequeathed this country to us expected of us, and this is what future generations will be proud of, the meat must certainly not be to the bone before we begin to reason together.

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