Yippee ! The cat is finally out of the bag ! After months of intense speculation, nerve-wracking brainstorming sessions with sleepy and worn out stakeholders who have been struggling to keep up with the mountains of paperwork and information, nitpicking to infinity, final deliberations and frantic last-minute changes, the goose is cooked.
It is amazing how the climax has been reached, the apex of the ultimate best-kept or worst-kept secret. For months on end, civil servants have been battling an obsession about the contents of the PRB (Pay Research Bureau) Director’s goodie bag. This exercise is carried out every few years but still, it has remained an epic subject of discussion all over the island. Civil servants have been driving their brain cells into overdrive mode by pondering whether they will find heart-warming gifts or lumps of coal in the notorious report. During the past two months, the tempo and adrenaline levels have dramatically increased, just in time to coincide with the rising summer temperatures.
Our civil servants, who devote their sweat towards the service of the nation, building it tenderly, brick by brick, cherishing it, no doubt have high expectations. Just like when you are passing next to one of those Briani houses in Port Louis, cannot resist the delicious aroma, get yourself a briani and prepare yourself to tuck in…. Ah, that feeling ! Mmm ! Now, whether the taste does justice to the aroma is another question. When our dear public employees have finally taken a bite of the much-awaited PRB report on the historical 9th November 2012, four long interminable years after the publication of the last one, this has somewhat been the culmination of careful watering, weeding, pruning and fertilizing. So, has the plant borne lovely luscious fruits or clumps of undigested fertilizer ? That is the billion-rupee question !
Indeed, just like in the case of the Maiden Cup, leaks (commonly known as tuyaux) have been filtering and rumours sending tongues wagging and many people on wrong tracks. Everyone has aspired to the privilege of deciphering the contents of the goodie bag before the others, due to their highly-placed contacts somewhere in the PRB vicinity. Some gain an almost sadistic pleasure in giving fictional bad tidings but oh well, it is all part of the game. For, you see, the PRB report has become a folkloric feature in Mauritius, on par with elections or football. The more you pretend to know, the more importance you will be given although the harsh reality dissimulated among these sheets of paper turn out to be totally different !
So now, the mysteries of the sacred sheets have been revealed and any surprises up for grabs ? Yes, the PRB Director has temporarily become the most-talked celebrity of the moment but what else ? A big inflated package for the panting civil servants : An additional Rs 4.6 billions will be injected into the system as from 2013 but it is never enough, as usual. Nor should it be as the common argument put forward will be that the cost of living has far exceeded the paltry compensation scale. Once again, part of the folklore attached to the PRB report would be the systematic vivisection and vehement criticism of it. To simply accept it would be most undignified and experts from the private sector have wasted no time in voicing out their disapproval and concern for the overall economic well-being of Mauritius, which might not be able to bear the heavy burden of the compensation recommendations upon her fragile shoulders and which is struggling to stay afloat in the great tempestuous ocean of economic gloom and doom ! Oh ! Motherland of Mine !
And what about the protagonists, that is, the civil servants themselves ? Suffice to say that they will quietly be pocketing an average of 22% salary increase and/or other benefits as from January 2013, come what may. The drums of discontent will keep beating as trade unionists, economists, private sector stakeholders will shout from the rooftops for a few days but at some point, the ‘talk of the town’ will no longer remain at the core of conversations and discussions. Once everyone has fulfilled the expected and customary role of him/her speaking out and the hype has subsided, then will we really know whether the PRB report has been an early Christmas treat or Pandora’s Box ! Remember, the Budget is lurking in the shadows…