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Salaries go up, but service goes down

Nuku'alofa, Tonga

Editor's Comment

The decision by Government and its Civil Servants on September 4 to end the Civil Servants' strike by giving in to the strikers demands, was a huge undertaking by a government that has few sources of revenue other than taxes, foreign aid and foreign remittances.

Everyone on the government's payrolls, excepting the heads of departments and the members of parliament, were promised a 60, 70, 80% pay rise.

The total salary rise package to be paid over two years, and back-dated to 1July, 2005, has been estimated to be about $35 million, and 60% of this amount is to be paid this year and the balance next year.

So how is Tonga going to raise $21 million to pay for this year's salary rise?

'Aisake Eke, the Acting Minister of Finance, said that the strikers' MOU restrains government from raising taxes, and government is not going to raise a loan to pay for salaries. Therefore, to pay for the salary rise, each ministry would have to cut down on services expenditure and reallocate their vote for the payment of salaries. He insisted that come what may, there would be a balanced budget.

The cutting down of the spending on services will further lower the standard of a public service that was already declining. You only have to visit the facilities at the hospital and at the airport to see for yourself the shocking state of the maintenance and the shortage of supplies. The deteriorating roads, road signs, and sand-bagged round-abouts are obvious signs of a poor public service. A cash-strapped Post Office sells official stamps for ordinary mail. A new government high school remains closed because there is no furniture. And now Ministries have less than before to offer the public.

It is disheartening to find the rest of the population are bending over backward to pay the civil servants high salaries for services that they will not be able to deliver because of a lack of resources.

Then there's the lethargy.

Civil servants have been given a false sense of security that they can be paid for not working, simply because their names are on government's payroll.


Now is the time to implement reforms - Wayne Madden
Your editorial re subject highlights fiscal problems arising from recent civil service pay rises but stops short of remedy and this in itself will no doubt stimulate robust conversation and debate.

In the final analysis sustainable prescription will come from civil service restructure/ right-sizing. After all wasn’t restructure one of the original reforms for which the ADB $40million loan was negotiated? If ever there was reason enough to implement reforms then now, more than ever, is that time.

“… It’s not hard to do the right thing - its just hard to know what the right thing is to do…”.

Unfortunately, there is rarely any gain without pain and serious thought and honest endeavour should be given to management and mitigation of consequence.

In addition to civil service restructure/ rightsizing it is imperative that “unconditional positive regard” be given to private sector investment/ development. Private sector growth will ultimately grow government revenue. - Wayne Madden

Peanuts left for Operations: Sailosi Finau, Auckland, New Zealand
Your editorial on Salaries go up, but service goes down cannot pass unnoticed by concerned citizens like me and I thank you for raising what was already foreseen as some of the consequences of the PSA demands.

The Princess Regent had made it absolutely clear: “Koe maha ‘ena e ‘oa ‘a e pule’anga. Kapau ko homou loto ia 60-70-80 pea fakahoko, kehe pe ‘oku tau ma’u me’atokoni melino mei he peleti pe ‘e taha.” Government has screamed that salaries will make up more than 70% of the budget with peanuts left for operations. We are now at the point of no return. This is what the 4000+ in the government’s payroll asked for, supported by local businesses, some church people and some Tongans and non-Tongans from abroad.

It is common knowledge that government relies mostly on taxes to finance itself. But with a MOU that restrains itself from raising taxes, what are the options? Loan? Yes but it has to be paid back from the revenue from taxes which cannot be raised. We can go on forever and talk about the beauty or otherwise of the Consumption Tax and Remittances but what other alternatives do we have? And to even talk about Tonga being able to compete in the world trade if it can restructure itself politically is a dream faka’avanga. Political change or not, but at the bottom line, Small (and isolation) will never be Beautiful in a competitive world. What resources and products do we have? The only worthy natural resource we have is tuna, a highly migratory specie which has to be jointly managed with our neighbours and the fishing states. Tonga, in whatever political structure, will be forced (like it or not) to join others with standard legislations, policies and strategies to sustainably manage and market this resource. Our social resource, people, are migrating everywhere because government has given them the necessary training and skills and set the platform for this and remittances flow.

Supported the strike

As you correctly put it Mr Editor, “the rest of the population are bending over backward to pay the civil servants high salaries for services that they will not be able to deliver because of a lack of resources.” I suppose the rest of the population don’t mind, after all, some supported the strike and/or most did not oppose it.

Managing limited resources is practiced in different ways around the world:

In the USA. If they have a bull and a cow, they’ll declare wars on others and claim ownership of their bulls and cows, and then they milk the cows whenever they want to.

In Japan. If they have a bull and a cow, they’ll put chemicals in both, more calves and milk are produced.

In India. If they have a bull and a cow, they’ll butcher the cow and pray to the bull.

In Tonga. If they have a bull and a cow, they’ll exchange the bull for a pig, feed the church people with the pig, stop feeding the cow but expect milk in return. And they call that Justice.

But money can’t be everything. This is a time that calls for better use of the brains and a change of attitudes. If the plumbing works at the rest rooms at Fua’amotu airport cannot be fixed, bring in a drum, fill it with water and put an empty 6 pound can in there (and remember some newspapers too!). But the problem in the civil service is that there are too many Paipa Pikos but very few Mikos.

“Tau ‘aka’aka ‘auti pe mo vahe and look out for the next overseas workshop.” Koloa pe ketau melino pea moe ki’i havilivili he mu’a ihu ee! - Sailosi Finau

Lack of operational funds not new: Kaliopau, Auckland, New Zealand
It is wrong to point to the recent salary increase as a result of the civil servants strike to be the cause of lack of funds for government operations for essential services and maintenance of public services like roads, public toilets and health services (and the list goes on). If one analysed carefully the Government budgets for the last decade - operational funds were in a downward trend in almost all of the government agencies.

In some key ministries 100% of operational funds were overseas donor funds. The government of Tonga funds only covers salaries, telephones and stationary other general services. Some donor-funded projects even provide for stationary and pay for telephone, electricity connections, internet time and many others.

The loss of millions in the Trust Fund was not even linked to be the cause of lack of funds for government operations and maintenance likewise, the many so called development schemes that end up swallowing millions of pa'anga from the Tonga Treasury. The various airports in Tonga reached the current 'run down' stages long before the recent salary increase. This is an indicator that maintenance was long neglected and the current stage did not happen overnight.

There were many good development projects that the Government could not continue to maintain after the life of the project - another indicator that the Government did not allocate resources to maintain these activities before outputs could be translated into outcomes.

Therefore, there are a lot of development activities very much needed for the development of Tonga that were started but Tonga did not reap the results because of this. Again this has been a habit of the government long before the recent salary increase. I could go on and on to give concrete examples to support my argument but would that improve government operations from now and onwards?

Cutting costs

What the government including the civil service should do is to ask how are they going to improve services and operations so that services and public infrastructures do not deteriorate? What are the areas where government can save or make money on - may I suggest a few (I am sure others might have brilliant ideas to share) - ministers and heads of departments official trips overseas that are being financed from the department's budget. Let's not go into the argument that all trips are important because we all know of examples of shopping trips!

What is slowing down the PSC in putting in place a review and monitoring system based on outputs performance to assess staff performance? But first make sure all civil servants are aware of this system (otherwise they will walk out again!!) if the high paid hot shot was not performing to achieve the agreed outputs - this is the way the world down sizes its public services!!


Nepotism is a disease in all government agencies in Tonga right from the top decision-makers. How can others perform while the kainga's, sons/daughters, wives/husbands and the ki'i pone is getting away with murder? There is clearly a thick line between what belongs to your and your kainga and what belongs to government. Those who are thick skinned and merge the two are people who are not fit to be civil servants and paid high salaries from the tax payer's money. In a sense - government, civil servants and the media know the problems to be fixed yet it is easier to find something/somebody to blame.

I thought we were all above that. We are at a stage of revamping/remodeling 'our boat' as the old one has lost its sail, there is no engine and is floating with a gaping hole. We do not want to repair it with the old spare parts that are 'all of the things above and many others that are the root causes of our boat sinking'.

Let's look beyond the horizon; Tonga's current political and economic diving was not caused by the civil servants demand for a better salary. Let's use the lessons learned from Tonga and from around the world to remodel Tonga's and Tongans destiny. - Kaliopau