Rethink policy on civil servant salaries to move Rwanda forward

Friday May 17 2013

In March, the government issued a ministerial order establishing salaries and fringe benefits for public servants of the Central Government.

The ministerial instrument details benefits and salary ceilings for senior government officials and the lower cadre. But what is clear is that our salary fixation is guided by job position rather than career progression.

For instance, while all Cabinet appointees are entitled to subsidised vehicles and communication allowances that come with relatively better month-end pay cheques, doctors, university lecturers and teachers continue to be poorly remunerated for the great job they do for Rwandans.

Our teachers, who earn as little as Rwf59,000, can hardly put food on the table yet we entrust them with the education of our children, whom we expect to become competitive actors in this challenging global village.

Rwanda’s nurse-to-inhabitants ratio is 1:1,476 while that of doctors is 1:1,800, yet these workers’ salaries remain low. The Ministry of Health has on several occasions demanded the best quality of customer care from the medical staff but this will not be possible if we don’t reward the care givers reasonably.

While we remain cognisant of the fact that ours is a resource-constrained country in which the government runs a limited budget amidst compelling demands. We must also be awake to the reality that we cannot attain a healthy and knowledgeable population when some of our medical staff and the majority of teachers can hardly provide for even the most basic needs at home.

This poor pay is not limited to the teachers and medical staff; the professionals who form the core of national planning, policy review, tax collection as well as procurement are also not adequately remunerated, which makes them vulnerable to temptation to engage in corruption.

Evidence abounds that high-performing nations have been associated with an efficient and effective bureaucracy provided by the civil service that has held traditions of integrity and transparency in high esteem.

A hungry man can hardly hold these principles dear.

The government has set the bar high in the fight against graft and the management of public finance in order to minimise waste as it struggles to pull the citizenry out of poverty. If this is to be maintained, however, there is a need to build a well trained, remunerated and highly patriotic civil service that acts in the public interest.

The political leadership ought to reduce the sharp discrepancies in salaries and perks, brought about by poor policies, which have created two classes of civil servants in the same public service.

We can, for instance, start by increasing salaries of teachers and medical staff and then go on to identify key skills required to move the economy forward. A special scheme to retain and develop these skills can then be created.