Life and Times Blog

Get what you pay for…

The recent Doctors strike got me thinking again about remuneration in the public sector. The more I mulled, and discussed, the more stupefied I was.

Teachers, Policemen, Doctors, Nurses. These are the people in the frontline of creating and sustaining a healthy society. Tasks that are obviously of overwhelming importance. Yet, jobs that rank near the bottom of the salary scale. Where’s the logic?

In normal corporate logic, that machine of widely acclaimed empirically derived efficiency, the most strategic people in an organisation are given the best remuneration. So those whose actions have the widest impact, ie nearer the top, get the best salary, so as to attract and retain the best.
If we apply the same logic to society as a whole, then all of the jobs mentioned above should be the best paid, because they form the frontline of healthy society, ie smart people, safe people, healthy people. Without being smart, safe or healthy, the human machine isn’t in much of a position to function.

All over the world this should apply, more so in a developing nation which is in a more desperate situation of needing these basic blocks to be established.

I would even extend the call for improved pay to other civil servants, all people working in government are employees of society, servicing its broadest needs. I have high respect of people in the civil service for this reason. And there are those who say if they gave better service, they should get better pay. But I think to attract better, we have to first pay better. If the job of Government is to create infrastructure for society to function in, physical and social infrastructure, then surely we should want our best and smartest working at that as that would be the foundation of all else that occurs in our environment.

I acknowledge a few problems with this call though, the first of course being funding. I personally think we should have a basic salary of R800k (that’s an arb figure that seems high enough) for the primary functions, ie Education, Health, Safety, less of course for new entrants, more for accomplished members. But how do we pay for this? No idea.
But let us consider that a more educated society has proven to be more productive, so theoretically, the investment in salaries in education would pay for itself through improved productivity of learners who eventually enter the workforce.
In terms of safety too, crime has a real cost, and improved policing would reduce those costs, through eventually reducing the amount of policing required, the costs of maintaining the legal processes to deal with criminals, the costs of housing criminals, insurance costs, replacement costs, public healthcare costs for victims…
Healthcare is a bit trickier in terms of the cost savings, it would definately impact on productivity, preventive costs are cheaper than curative costs etc

Of all the above though, more significant than the financial offsets, is that these are basic human rights, and having any respect for the dignity of human beings should be more than enough of a motivator for pushing for improved services.

The Quran says in Chapter 95, vs 4: ” We have indeed created man in the best of moulds”, it is vital that we at least create an environment which facilitates the ability of man to realize his full potential. Without the basic blocks in place, a healthy society, man is limited in his natural tendency to this goodness.
[More about Islam and the dignity of Man can be found by clicking this link.]

A sort of Maslow’s hierarchy applied at a society wide level.

A second major challenge, and where the public sector would differ from the private, is monitoring. In corporates, an individuals performance is diligently scrutinized to ensure that his salary is justified. There isn’t the same degree of monitoring in the public sector and this would be critical. It would be foolish to just drive up salaries whilst maintaining and attracting the same quality and enthusiasm of the employees.

Diagnosing problems is easy of course, but being vocal is the first step. When the challenge is realised as being sufficiently important, people will respond with their ability to answer the solutions.

Also a disclaimer, there may be tons of inherent complexity involved in what I’ve said, that I’m ignorant of, but until i’m enlightened, I think it makes sense. There are plenty of more involved, academic papers on this topic, above is the blog version of the gripe.

On education, below is a quote from a paper by Paula Armstrong of Stellenbosch Univeristy.

“Teachers are seen as the “central actors in education, facilitators of learning, bringers of knowledge, brokers of relationships between pupils and the societies in which they live” (Voluntary Services Overseas [VSO], 2002). Within developing societies specifically, teachers are often perceived to be the central learning resource given the difficult working and living conditions prevalent in these societies. The scarcity of teaching resources often renders teachers the only channel through which society is able to achieve its educational aspirations. “Teachers interaction with learners is the axis on which educational quality turns” (VSO, 2002).

May 24, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Steve Biko on Death

I’ve just read a collection of Steve Biko’s (a South African struggle hero) writings. This passage sums up the spirit of the man, relentless, highly intelligent, self-sacrificial, principled.
He was jailed for a particular incident, and this is an extract of an interview he had with an American journalist, hence the colloquial style, his writings were much more eloquent, polished.

Now it may be unlikely that you will be lucky enough to find yourself in jail for a political struggle, but its the principles that we hope to draw from, for our own struggles. I highly recommend the book as a read for South Africans, maybe not so much for foreigners ,you won’t appreciate the context as much.

On Death
You are either alive and proud or you are dead, and when you are dead, you can’t care anyway. And your method of death can itself be a politicizing thing. So you die in the riots. For a hell of a lot of them, in fact, there’s really nothing to lose – almost literally, given the kind of situations that they come from. So if you can overcome the personal fear for death, which is a highly irrational thing, you know, then you’re on the way.

And in interrogation the same sort of thing applies. I was talking to this policeman, and I told him, ‘If you want us to make any progress, the best thing is for us to talk. Don’t try any form of rough stuff, because it just won’t work.’ And this is absolutely true also. For I just couldn’t see what they could do to me which would make me all of a sudden soften to them. If they talk to me, well I’m bound to be affected by them as human beings. But the moment they adopt rough stuff, they are imprinting in my mind that they are police. And I only understand one form of dealing with police, and that’s to be as unhelpful as possible. So I button up. And I told them this: ‘ Its up to you.’ We had a boxing match the first day I was arrested. Some guy tried to clout me with a club. I went into him like a bull. I think he was under instructions to take it so far and no further, and using open hands so that he doesn’t leave any marks on the face. And of course he said exactly what you are saying just now: ‘ I will kill you.’ He meant to intimidate. And my answer was:’How long is it going to take you?’ Now of course they were observing my reaction. And they could see that I was completely unbothered. If they beat me up, it’s to my advantage. I can use it. They just killed somebody in jail – a friend of mine- about ten days before I was arrested. Now it would have been bloody useful evidence for them to assault me. At least it would indicate what kind of possibilities were there, leading to this guy’s death. So, I wanted them to go ahead and do what they could do, so that I could use it. I wasn’t really afraid that their violence might lead me to make revelations I didn’t want to make, because I had nothing to reveal on this particular issue.

I was operating from a very good position, and they were in a very weak position. My attitude is, I’m not going to allow them to carry out their program faithfully. If they want to beat me five times, they can only do so on condition that I allow them to beat me five times. If I react sharply, equally and oppositely, to the first clap, they are not going to systematically count the next four claps, you see.
It’s a fight. So if they had meant to give me so much of a beating, and not more, my idea is to make them go beyond what they wanted to give me and give back as much as I can give so that it becomes an uncontrollable thing.

You see the one problem this guy had with me: he couldn’t really fight with me because it meant he must hit back, like a man. But he was given instructions, you see, on how to hit, and now these instructions were no longer applying because it was a fight. So he had to withdraw and get more instructions.
So I said to them, ‘Listen, if you guys want to do this your way, you have got to handcuff me and bind my feet together so I can’t respond. If you allow me to respond, I’m certainly going to respond. And I’m afraid you may have to kill me in the process even if it’s not your intention.

Taken from : Steve Biko, I write what I like. Published by Picador Africa, available from leading bookstores.

May 10, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The super Super-Hero

When I was younger Hulk was always my favorite super-hero. Because my brother had already picked Superman.
Yeah, I didn’t put much thought into it.

For my grown up life though, Batman is my favorite super-hero. He doesn’t have any super-powers but :
“Batman is a superhero because he fights crime and has a special car (i.e., the Batmobile).
A superhero isn’t necessarily defined by his powers, but rather, his zeal for fighting crime.”

By which definition James Bond should also then fall into the category of super-hero.

Batman and Bond beat the others BECAUSE they don’t have superpowers but still battle the baddies. That’s a whole lot of hard work put into becoming a crime-fighting machine. Not some magical gift that makes it easier, but rather the result of a deliberate decision to combat bad stuff.

Why Batman over Bond though? Because he’s just that much more humble, he uses the alter-ego, whilst crafting the true man to be a bit of a jerk just to throw people off, he doesn’t womanize like Bond, and he doesn’t trash his car as often. And Bond looks like he does it because he enjoys it, Batman looks like he does it because it needs to be done.

When I grow up, I want to be like Batman.

May 3, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 16 Comments