By Jones Nhinson Williams
Although most serious and experienced policy-minded Liberians, especially those with international pedigree, are unsatisfied with the CDC-led government and the Weah administration’s Economic Management Team handling of the country’s deficient economy, the administration’s push for salary harmonization initiated by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development Planning is a wise strategy and noble undertaking. It should, therefore, be lauded and supported by all Liberians.
Salary harmonization is a function of classification and compensation. It is also a system that should be undertaken and enforced by any serious, responsible, and genuine institution, especially government. Its underlying rationale is to create or promote the fair and consistent application of classification and the salary of positions in any employment setup, both in the public and private sectors. Such a system generally ensures the following:
- Provides a pay system that allows institutions to attract and retain competent employees;
- Supports the mission of an institution and encourages employees to consider their employment as a career rather than an interim job;
- Establishes equitable pay standards to assure that employees with similar responsibilities get paid comparably;
- Provides a pay structure that reflects the relative worth of positions in an institution;
- Provides a system whereby salary budgets can be systematically planned, established, monitored, and controlled;
- Assures compliance with all relevant national and local wage and salary laws and guidelines in specific environments.
The truth is the Liberian government is by far, one of the largest employers in the country. As an employer of people working in innumerable institutions such as ministries, autonomous departments, commissions and oversight bodies, let alone parastatals, the government is justified in implementing a salary harmonization initiative. Such harmonization ensures equity, efficiency, and increases opportunities for workers’ motivation and retention as well as enhances the government’s integrity as an employer with a set of standards, transparency, and work ethics.
Daily political, governance and philosophical differences aside, the current Liberian Government Economic Management Team and the Minister of Finance and Economic Development Planning Samuel D. Tweah have demonstrated a sense of reawakening and purpose by advancing such a good public policy discussion that any serious and patriotic Liberian legislator, in principle, should have no problem with at all. Every inclined Liberian should also have no problem with the salary harmonization effort too because it is a good and reasonable action. Support for or disapproval of such action should not be rooted in the usual mundane Liberian politics of “Us” versus “Them.”
That said, the administration’s Economic Management Team and the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development Planning erred procedurally in its approach to the entire salary harmonization process.
Firstly, in any democratic nation such as Liberia, classification, and compensation interplay and implication, especially in government, are associated with legislative oversight and deliberation. Secondly, and because salary harmonization goes beyond just reducing workers’ pay to analyzing position’s core duties and responsibilities, the importance of human resources professionals or entity such as the Civil Service Agency having an early role and being the essential driver in the process is necessary. Thirdly, issues of positions classification and workers’ compensation require sustained and strategic communication with all stakeholders, including the public, if needed. It would appear that the administration’s Economic Management Team and the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development Planning dropped the ball in these areas. They dropped the ball because policy messaging, strategic communication, and crisis management continue to be a weakness.
One would also assume that the administration’s Economic Management Team and the leadership at the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development Planning willfully opted to by-pass the Liberian legislature for obvious reasons, including the legislature’s inability to develop sound policy and public interest laws. Also, perhaps because of the legislature appearance as being functionally incompetent, corrupt, and self-serving. However, there is still no plausible reason for the administration to fizzle in not making the salary harmonization process a project of the Civil Service Agency and for not developing a strategic communication strategy to get buy-in from workers and the public.
Generally, there is always insecurity over compensation issues such as wages and benefits. These issues are grave because they affect the morale and productivity of workers. As such, the government should have formed and managed the messaging right away because not doing so means others would form the message for them such that it fuels the disruptive rumor mill as we have witnessed in recent weeks.
The administration needed to communicate with public service employees as soon as they could, and such communication should have included presentations at the various agencies and even on national radio and television. Additional written communications in the form of questions and answers should follow, and more local and specific meetings conducted by functional heads of agencies and offices.
Another potential shortcoming of the so-called salary harmonization referenced by the administration’s Economic Management Team and the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development Planning is the administration’s failure in adhering to the philosophy of compensation and classification. In administering compensation and classification programs, those in charge must adhere to the following philosophy:
- The compensation and classification system should be market-based where pay ranges and structures are reviewed periodically – perhaps every two to four years.
- The process should ensure objectivity and consistency; They should evaluate jobs with one another.
- The process should adhere to the market value of the job, its value to the institution, and its relationship to other jobs requiring similar knowledge, skills, and abilities.
Unlike the previous Liberian administration under Ellen Johnson Sirleaf which unjustifiably, unnecessarily and carelessly increased wages and benefits for elected officials, select bureaucrats, and some civil servants, the Weah administration seems to be doing sometime a bit different. The Sirleaf administration increased wages and benefits with a mind to enrich friends, family members, relatives, and associates. The Weah administration, despite its good intentions, is only making a procedural mistake in its salary and benefit harmonization process for public service workers. One such mistake is the administration’s failure to develop an integral compensation and classification policy framework as well as employ a prompt, straightforward communication strategy which would have been critical to ease workers’ uncertainty and fear, and to squash rumors about the program. These are serious errors, but they can be corrected.
The Weah administration needs to use these mistakes and experiences as “lessons learned” in engaging future policy issues and program development initiatives. To be considered or taken seriously, the Liberian legislature needs to develop functional competence, constitutional independence, and do the right thing for the Liberian people.
Among things that the legislature needs to do right now include taking a critical look at various appropriations for certain offices and programs and the relevance of those appropriations. Some of these include the wage bill and benefits of the very legislature and offices within the Senate and the House of Representatives. Others include wasteful travels expenses, corrupt procurement and unneeded employees within some agencies etc.
About the Author:
Jones Nhinson Williams is a Liberian public policy professional and the current State Administrator of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics programs in the state of Maryland. He previously served as Maryland State Government’s Deputy Salary Administrator, Maryland State Government Labor Market Information Manager; Director of the Jewish Family Services international refugee resettlement, integration and employment program, Family Investment Policy Specialist at the Maryland’s Department of Human Services, and as a federal supported employment program specialist in New York City. He holds a degree in public philosophy (Honors) from the Catholic seminary and a graduate degree from NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. He can be reached at email@example.com.