Mahatma Gandhi once said: In this world there is enough for every man’s need not every man’s greed.
Equally it is true that in this country there is enough to go around before others have an opportunity to take more.
That is why the current public service salary impasse is of particular interest because it touches on the sensitive subject of sharing public resources.
It is a true now that the Zambian Civil Servant is the best paid employee in the country; the lowest paid earning six times the minimum wage. Our public servants are therefore among the best paid in the world. This is a very unique position.
So unique that many developing agencies have warned Government of the dire consequences this might have on the economy considering that the civil service is not a “productive e” sector in the normal sense of the word.
In the past people remained in the public service because it offered job security and a pension that was more assured.
The Public service is by design intended to provide a service to the private sector and community at large. This assumes that this service can be paid for by the tax base, which in our case is extremely narrow.
Compared to the United Kingdom our comparative salaries are much higher. Our total wage bill is a substantial percentage of the national outgoings estimated at close to 52 percent of the budget.
This is unsustainable.
It is all the more unsustainable considering that the treasury will resort to borrowing in order to meet the anticipated deficit. A consumption budget is most certainly inadvisable regardless of the political pressures.
It is gratifying that Government will tomorrow meet with leaders from the public Service Unions including the mother body- ZCTU.
It is important that the contentious issues of salary and hiring freeze are discussed in order to arrive at an amicable solution without resorting to industrial action.
Clearly the Unions will be putting a case or indeed cases for their members while the Government represented by the Secretary to Cabinet will be representing the executive.
Sadly the most interested party in the talks, the Zambian people will be missing from the talks. These are the people who are expected to foot the bill from whatever outcome will be arrived at. More importantly these are the people who expect quality delivery services.
Our plea is that the wage bill discussions should not be done in a vacuum because the public is bound to suffer in the long run both in terms of providing the funding as well as suffering the consequences of funding a dysfunctional service that fails to rise to the challenge of providing an efficient service.
The private sector has very clear performance criteria on which pay and incentives are determined, whereas the public has no such measure.
The sooner the Government puts these in place the better to ensure that the high salaries are earned.