There have been mixed reactions to the recent budgetary measures, where, as unusual as this may be, the traditional opposers were not this time always on the same side or more precisely on the same wavelength. While at the same time praises and criticisms likewise came from unexpected and varied quarters, depending on the benefits to be derived or the impact on the pocket.
But on one point, I can hardly imagine anyone to disagree. And that is the bonus payment to the frontliners. Yet, as Bérenger rightly pointed out, that privilege should also be extended to firemen and scavengers. (En passant, it is worth underlining that having been the first one to draw attention to this omission – and I hope it is only one -, Bérenger shows that in spite of sideslippings of late, he is still that shrewd politician with the sharp ability to pick those details that often escape attention.)
Nevertheless, if I have reservations as to whether – without hurting feelings – firemen also qualify for that bonus, scavengers unchallengeably do. Just imagine the situation if garbage had not been collected during the two-month lockdown. Scavengers were also exposed, the more so they deal with trash and, in the special circumstances of Covid-19, sometimes without adequate protective equipment. The omission can still be corrected without unsustainable additional financial burden. Bérenger chose to be « la voix des sans-voix ». I add my humble contribution.
This special gratuity also reminds of something no active public employee may possibly recollect, inasmuch as it occurred nearly 45 years ago. And that was in December 1975, during the sugar boom, when Government, in an ill-advised move, decided to grant a quarter-month salary as bonus to the Police Force. The Federation of Civil Service Unions – that one genuine ‘federation’ and not the fragmented present-day alignment – stood up to challenge the decision. Government capitulated and extended the bonus to the entire public service. The end-of-year bonus was born. I am glad this privilege is maintained in the present measures, not only because it concerns all workers but also on account of the symbolic value it represents in terms of trade union achievements during hard days, unknown to the present generations of trade union leaders. Today, however, no one can challenge that only frontliners – including scavengers – qualify.Yet, a precedent has been created.
In the same vein, I wish to express sympathy to public employees for the deferment of the implementation of the PRB recommendations. Upward revision of salaries of public employees, at this point in time, when thousands of private sector employees face layoffs, and which Government is attempting to contain with massive injections of resources, would have been ‘indecent’. Again, it would be useful to remind of the dark years that followed the two devaluations of the rupee in 1979 and 1981, an experience I sincerely hope the younger generations of public employees never go through. A time when for years running promotions were frozen, vacancies remained unfilled, overtime drastically curtailed, no acting allowances etc, and even stationery rationed! The deferment of the PRB recommendations is no match.
As regards the Budget proper, the measures will continue to attract a flood of comments, some to make headlines. While in the National Assembly, debates will rage for the coming days where one side will fire broadsides with full heart content on the governing side, albeit at times with blank ammunitions. While on the ruling side the same scenarios as usual – everything under control, with hardly-concealed references we are heading for El Dorado, and the opportunity for the neophytes to sing the praises of the Leader, whose vision ‘pa finn sanze’. We wonder, what vision?
But the din will finally subside, when the spotlight will again be shifted to other areas we were distracted from when the budgetary measures were the centre of our focus.
It will then be the start of the real test for those at the helm. Interesting days ahead!