Child’s Pay

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s announcement this week in his speech on the 2010 state budget that civil servants would see an average 5 percent hike in their pay packets was welcome news. But it was painfully shy of the reality of living today and it does nothing to address the real root of corruption that continues to devour this country.

The president’s avowed battle against entrenched graft nationwide cannot achieve any meaningful success as long as there are armies of government employees who must reach out elsewhere to make ends meet because they are simply too poorly paid.

We are still in kindergarten territory here. People who work for the government are expected – in this time of ever-increasing prices of staple goods and services – to raise families on salaries that don’t amount to more than the equivalent of US$200 a month. That is shameful.

It cannot be a case that the government cannot afford to pay its employees appropriately. It is the case that large chunks of state funds are misappropriated by corrupt officials right across the country each year; that illegal levies and fees imposed by such officers on business and ordinary folk seeking registration or complying with government regulations tangle up an already moribund system of bureaucracy; that a graft-bound officialdom is a rabid cancer that gnaws away at any real hope of development of this nation.

Until civil servants’ salaries are adequately addressed, there will be no tangible advancement in the administration of the country.

Any programme to properly reform the organs of state should also note that a sizeable slim-down in personnel in departments is in order. Some are awash with large numbers of unnecessary staff – a holdover from the employ-all Suharto days – who have little to do but watch television during office hours. Retiring them would also make the institutions vastly more efficient, as well as clawing back money that would be better well spent on a more refined, professional, adequate workforce.

It is not quantity we should be after, but quality.

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