Ah, the budget. It is something that is always highly anticipated by our newsroom. First, there is the budget presentation in Parliament, but that is more political grandstanding than anything else and then there are the numbers, which are contained primarily in two documents: The Budget Summary and The Recurrent and Development Estimates. These hefty, multi-hundred page documents are not easy to read but we would suggest that each and every taxpayer should, at least, make an attempt. Pick out a ministry and dive into the details … as it is said, it is there where you will meet the devil.
One of the big line items in our recurrent expenditures is the government wage bill. In a word, it is high! In 2016, the government’s wage bill stood at a whopping $318,708,951. In 2017, it is estimated that the wage bill will come in at $357,470,612. That is a 12.2 per cent increase, but in fairness that is down from the $30 million over-budget amount of $377,232,390 in 2016. We would like to say that it is surprising considering the government’s boast of taking a more business-like approach to the government administration. But, it is not.
If you examine the numbers you will notice a disturbing trend. The direct personal emoluments and indirect allowances & benefits for established workers declined by almost $22 million from $162,406,903 in 2015 to the 2017 estimate of $140,523,971. Meanwhile, the non-established wage bill increased by $50 million, from $125,642,640 to $175,634,806. So now we spend more on non-established than established workers by $35 million dollars. We have not even begun to talk about the doubling of the “Other personnel costs” line, which went from $6,403,562 in 2015 to an estimated $15,176,296 for 2017. What is in that “other” line to put this increase so out of whack?
We all know how the non-established service works. It is a dependency system that was created to ensure that the worker knew that their jobs were dependent on the minister. It is a walk around the Establishment Division.
Putting all of that aside, we are still left with the question as to whether we are getting 12 per cent more from our government and the services that it provides to people; since that would be the only real justification for hiring more people? To this question, we expect two responses. The first will be those that simply say “yes, you are” without citing any facts or providing any analysis. The second will be from those that will simply overlook the question and ask a question in return. It usually goes something like this: “if the private sector cannot employ people then what must the government do, let them starve?”
While we would be tempted to challenge the first response, it is not worth doing so because the intent is obvious. The second one has more meat on the bone so we will entertain that argument. The first and most obvious retort relates to the government’s mandate. The government is expected to run as efficiently as possible while implementing social and economic policy in an effort to ensure that taxpayers’ dollars are spent wisely and the economy is vibrant enough to provide employment for all who want to work.
It is generally accepted that the government service is overstaffed and is not as productive as it should be. Workers are underutilized and the general efficiency of the government services is poor. The inefficiency of government has been cultivated. Instead of doing the hard work, for which they have been employed, and foster a strong economy to create jobs, politicians take the easy road and parachute people into unnecessary jobs in the civil service. So instead of one person working at full productivity, you may find that there are two people assigned to the same job; thus creating a situation where workers now only have to put in 50 per cent of their productive time. It is just lazy thinking.
We have made the productivity point many times before but it is worth repeating. And to illustrate our point, we will once again point you to a simple extreme example. If the government wanted to spend $50 million more in wages to have people simply share the existing work then the money would be better spent by placing the additional head count into the private sector while continuing to pay them. We did say it was an extreme example to prove a point.
In the end, $50 million of taxpayers’ money would be better spent supporting the taxpayers themselves by incentivising and encouraging the expansion of the private sector. We cannot build an economic powerhouse with a bloated, inefficient government with a poorly supported, local private sector. To achieve that lofty goal, the entire nation must be efficient and productive. The cost of government must be minimal and the driver of the economy and employment must be in the hands of the private sector.