By Jonah Soe Kotee
In 2014 the Board of Executive Directors for the World Bank appropriated US$2 million for the modernization of the Public Sector; to support the strengthening of the Liberia government’s aptitude for public sector management. The US$2 million International Development Association (IDA) loan was envisioned to conventionalize a see-through, responsible and approachable public sector institution in Liberia that could contribute to financial and social improvement. The ingenuity of the venture was to reinforce the accomplishments that will build up the standards of performance and structures of payroll within ministries and agencies of the Liberian Government. The task was also co-financed by the grants of US5.5 million from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and additional US$4 million from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA).
The modernization project was moored on pillar four of Liberia’s “Agenda for Transformation”, with objective of raising the bar for performance standards in the public sector; and to shape a stout and functional system for managing performance and taming reliability in the public service. The project also addressed the human resource allied issues for civil servants, such as remuneration, performance management and professional development and stalwartly supported the establishment of competitive remuneration structure, performance management system across the Liberian civil service.
An apt remuneration framework is enormously the most key strategy of the inclusive Human Resource Strategy which helps to promote competition and realization in both the public and private sectors. Additionally, a framed remuneration strategy keeps wage bill under control and manage employments resourcefully. The harmonization of remuneration of Liberian Public Civil Servants roots from the past regime; but the strategy was not implemented for some indefinite political reasons. For this government to restore confidence in the public sector, to smoothen the way for international donors to support, to streamline spending and reduce the massive disparities in the public sector pay, to reduce the wage bill, it is just practical to launch a salary harmonization exercise to address the biases and re-establishment of equity in the pay structures which will ultimately lead to salary deductions affecting over 100 spending agencies of government.
Currently in Liberia, public service pay is categorized in two major trunks which show the lack of independence, and inequalities in salaries paid to government employees. The Cabinet Ministers are directly managing the Special Allowance (SP); completely different from the set salary for the banded positions. For example, a Cabinet Minister might have the discretion to pay his/her Special Assistant US$2,000 as Special Allowance (SP) in addition to regular salary whilst other Special Assistants within the Civil Service Agency Payroll System are making far less-the salary harmonization process will dissolve the Special allowance and give the CSA the opportunity to band all positions appropriately which will have a huge budgetary impact in controlling the wage bill and promoting efficiency. The practice of giving Special Allowance in addition to salary is a very regular practice across Public Sector Ministries in Liberia thereby promoting inequality, increasing wage bills, demotivating employees, promoting poor performance and leading to mismanagement of some donor funds in the direction of paying SPs and salaries.
Drawing up a competitive salary band, or adapting a “Single Spine Salary Structure” will help to reduce cost of wage bill in the public sector and promote donor confidence. The Single Spine Salary structure will be based on the Spine system of awarding Civil Servants based on dissimilar levels of pay contingent on their level of qualification, and fits. Adapting the “Single Spine Salary structure”, every public sector jobs will be prized and put on a point, given equal weight. The ultimate goal for the “Single Spine Salary Structure” will be to control the cost of wage bill, ensure equity, objectivity, and transparency as well as enhance performance and productivity in the public sector.
The practice will require a countrywide consultation and discussions with all stakeholders and later all public sector employees will be placed on one perpendicular structure, confirming that jobs within the identical value range are paid within the same pay range thereby linking pay to productivity. The new structure will allow the Liberian government to manage its wage bill more efficiently; minimized tensions correlated to low pay and bias across the public service; and the government will be able to divert most of the savings to the Health, and sectors.
To have a successful implementation of this strategy: the “Single Spine Salary Structure”, the government of Liberia need to establish a minimum wage Board tasked with the duty of successful implementation of the policy; placing civil servants pay structure; confirm that jobs within the same structure are paid; allow government the capability to control the wage bill more efficiently which will reinstitute the confidence of international partners. The “Single Spine Salary Structure”; approach if accepted by the Liberian government will be a spirited effort in eradicating disparities and inequalities in the public service and this will among other benefits enable government attract and retain highly skilled staff in the public service ensuing in increase in productivity.
Implementing the SSSS is long overdue. If the Weah led government must regain the reputation of the public sector, control the wage bill, promote productivity and efficiency, pay equity and fairness there has to be a pay reduction through salary harmonization or SSSS approach. It will be a challenging decision but with the support of both the Houses: The House of Senate and Representative, it might work once it becomes a laws. There is also the human side of it; because salary might reduce and civil servants might have a different understanding of the approach, there need to be a big change management process with all ministries that will be affected if the harmonization is to take place.
Jonah Soe Kotee is a professional member of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and president of the Association of Liberia Human Resources Professionals (ALHRP).