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.