Pay Peanuts, Get Monkeys!

Lee Kuan Yew, the founder of modern Singapore once famously said, “You pay peanuts, you get monkeys!”. The current pay scales for public services in Pakistan reward some employees while paying peanuts to others. And if this continues, then monkeys is what we’ll get, argues a young civil servant.

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The Federal Secretariat has been rocked by protests for the past few weeks. Protestors are demanding a pay raise of 120% as recommended by the Secretaries Committee (a forum where the most senior bureaucrats meet to discuss issues that require input from all Ministries).

The purpose of the Secretaries Committee is to reach decisions after consolidating the collective wisdom of senior-most officers. And in their collective wisdom, they recommended a 120% pay raise for employees of the Federal Secretariat with effect from the 1st of January, 2020.

There was much hue and cry in the media as well as social media over this proposal to increase salaries by such a huge margin. With a cash-strapped government and a widespread (mis)perception that bureaucrats are not working as efficiently as they should, why reward employees of the Federal Secretariat with such a pay package?

A closer look at the salary structure in the government of Pakistan can help understand the logic behind the proposal-and now the demand via protest-of increasing salaries by 120%.

With such a haphazard and distorted salary structure, it’s no surprise then that a wide gulf has emerged between the salaries and perks and privileges of various departments, leading to a sense of deprivation among employees of departments with low pay

The salary structure in the government of Pakistan is so complex that it is beyond any single person’s understanding. Different departments give different allowances and within the same department, there are different allowances as well.

There’s the basic pay component of the salary, a meager and inaptly termed ‘house rent allowance’, a few ad-hoc relief allowances (that amount to no more than a few thousand rupees), medical allowance and house requisition.

There are just the parts of the salary that every department is giving. Some components are tax-deductible with the medical allowance is not. For the sake of brevity, the details of the various kinds of allowances in various departments are not discussed here.

With such a haphazard and distorted salary structure, it’s no surprise then that a wide gulf has emerged between the salaries and perks and privileges of various departments, leading to a sense of deprivation among employees of departments with low pay.

If the salary and perks were commensurate with the job description and quantum of work, that could still be somewhat defensible grounds for such a striking difference in remuneration. But unfortunately, that’s not the case which only solidifies the perception that the government is pursuing discriminatory policies.

Read more: Why Civil Services Reforms are confusing?

For instance, the salaries of the staff at Prime Minister Secretariat, President’s Secretariat and in the provincial secretariats are 100 to 150% higher than those posted in any of the federal ministries. Ironically, the employees of the Finance Division-responsible for preparing the budget-are among the lowest paid.

Governments at different times-for reasons known only to them-have rewarded employees of different government organizations by increasing their pay, leaving the rest feeling deprived and discriminated against.

This brings us back to the demand of the protestors at the Federal Secretariat of a 120% increase in their salary. This increase-should it occur-would only apply to the basic pay component of the salary and not the net salary receivable.

And this increase would serve to bridge the gulf between employees of the Federal Secretariat and those in the provincial secretariats, especially given the fact that their job description is virtually the same.

The government seems to have listened to him. Hassan Khawar has pointed out the ‘peanuts’ that civil servants get during their service, while being responsible for managing transactions worth millions on a daily basis

But would this pay increase solve the problem entirely? This question is important because the working of the government affects the private sector and by proxy, all of society.

In 1949, the Pay Commission headed by Chairman Justice Munir prepared a report with the following recommendations as to how the pay structure in the government should be developed.

  • Public servants “should get such remuneration for their work as enables them to lead honest and respectable lives”
  • We do not think it to be the right policy for the State to offer such salaries to its servants so as to attract the best available material. The correct place for our men of genius is in private enterprise and not in the humdrum career of public service where character and the desire to serve honestly for a living is more essential than outstanding intellect…
  • The government should pay so much and so much only to its employees as is necessary to obtain recruits of the right stamp

The government seems to have listened to him. Hassan Khawar has pointed out the ‘peanuts’ that civil servants get during their service, while being responsible for managing transactions worth millions on a daily basis.

The Prime Minister of Pakistan has praised the Civil Service of Pakistan of the 1960s and that of Singapore as well. A Commissioner in Pakistan back then could buy a car with one month’s salary, the Prime Minister has said.

Read more: Politicization of Civil Services in Pakistan

In the Singaporean Civil Service, the salary structure is competitive and market-based, with adjustments made regularly depending upon performance. The Japanese civil service is no different.

The Pakistani Civil Service is different, however. The pay structure in the government of Pakistan betrays market realities. A highly qualified neurosurgeon at BPS-19 and a PS (Personal Secretary) both get the same basic pay while the job of the latter is mainly to screen telephone calls and conduct guests/visitors to senior officers.

A Police Sub-inspector faces the worst elements of society on a daily basis with no ‘hazard pay’ while his counterparts in other departments at the same pay scale get the same salary and face none of the risks.

The Basic Pay Scale framework (from BPS-1 to BPS-22) introduced in the mid-1970s divides all employees of every existing government department and every conceivable government department in the future into 22 grades with similar mandatory service periods for promotion to the next grade, without regard to differences in the nature of the job.

The majority of these Grades (1 to 16) are designated for support staff and only grades 17 to 22 are meant for ‘gazetted officers’ where the real decision making and policymaking is supposed to take place.

The argument that there is no money to pay extra salary is hard to stand by, given FIA’s salaries were increased by 150% recently and Naya Pakistan Housing Authority is reportedly being allowed an increase of 230%

And under this BPS framework, there is considerable discrepancy between salaries of different departments leading to a sense of deprivation among those with low pay that has now culminated in the form of daily protests in the Federal Secretariat.

Revamping the entire pay structure in the government requires an intellectual effort based on a scientific and evidence-based approach.

A more simplified pay structure that reflects market realities would ensure the work of the government is not only more efficient but also not halted by protestors feeling discriminated against.

Read more: Time to resuscitate the civil services in Pakistan

The argument that there is no money to pay extra salary is hard to stand by, given FIA’s salaries were increased by 150% recently and Naya Pakistan Housing Authority is reportedly being allowed an increase of 230%.

Getting the pay structure right would invariably improve governance.

The Prime Minister of Pakistan has praised the civil service of Singapore. And Lee Kuan Yew, the founder of modern Singapore once famously said, “You pay peanuts, you get monkey!”. The current pay scales in the country reward some employees while paying peanuts to others. And if this keeps up, the monkey is what we’ll get.

Saqib Manzoor is an Engineer and a CSP officer. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.

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