Dedicated to the Salaries Commissioner

Mauritius Times – 60 Years Ago

By Peter Ibbotson

In the speech from the throne, the Acting Governor spoke of the “need to revise the salaries of those senior administrative and professional staff upon whom so much depends”. He said that the salaries paid to such officers are out of line with those paid in other colonies, in Mauritian businesses, and in the world market generally.

Sessional Paper No. 6, 1957, correspondence between the Government and the Secretary of State on the subject of the salaries of administrative and professional staff, repeats these comments. Figures quoted by the Secretary of State show that salaries paid to senior government officials in Mauritius are indeed lower than those paid in almost every other colony. Therefore, it is argued, the scale of salaries paid in Mauritius must go up. On the other hand, the Acting Governor has said, also in the Speech from the Throne, that “additional expenditure on personal emoluments should be directed to where it is most needed.”

Built between 1861 and 1866, at the height of British Imperial and Economic Power, the Gilbert Scott Building would house the Colonial Office from 1875 onwards. It also held the Indian Office, the Foreign Office and even the Home Office as these departments were moved out of their cramped Downing Street offices as the demands of an enlarging nation and empire became apparent. Photo – History Today

And who most needs increased salaries? The men already getting Rs 10, 320 a year and more; or the men getting paid on the scale Rs 1,140 to Rs 1380? With the cost of living steadily going up, it is clear that the people with the higher costs; the worker with only a hundred or so rupees a month has little to spare to meet steady increases in the cost of essentials such as rice, flour, bread, dholl, etc. The officer with 200 rupees a week has a wide margin of income available to meet increases in the cost of his food: meat, for example.

If there is to be a salary revision, it is the lowest-paid workers who should be considered first. Let us, however, look at the arguments brought forward to justify increased incomes for the higher-paid officers.

We are told that Mauritius’ salaries are lower than those paid in other colonies. That is quite true. The Sessional Paper gives examples; from which we see that the salaries of heads of departments and deputy heads of departments in Mauritius are, generally speaking, between 40 and 70 per cent lower than the salaries paid to heads of departments in Kenya, Uganda, Tanganyika, Zanzibar, Northern Rhodesia and Nigeria. Out of 23 colonies listed, only the Gambia and British Honduras pay the Colonial Secretary less money than Mauritius. The same two colonies plus Gibraltar are the only ones to pay the Financial Secretary less.

The Director of Agriculture is lower-paid in four other colonies; the Director of Education in four; the Director of Medical Services in two; and the Director of Public Works in two. On the face of things, there would be an apparent case for levelling up the salaries of colonial civil servants, so that salaries in all parts of the Commonwealth were similar. However, we must remember that the cost of living in some colonies (such as Burmuda) is very high; and climatic conditions compel, in other colonies (e.g. North Borneo, Sarawak, Nigeria), higher salaries to compensate for the adverse conditions of service.

We must remember too that the salaries payable in any colony must bear some relation to the ability of the colony to afford them; and to the responsibility attaching to the various posts in the various colonies. Look at, for example, the different responsibilities of Directors of Education and their different incomes. In Mauritius, the Director is paid £ 1,935 a year; his department spent £ 700.000 and had 79,000 children in its schools. (All statistics in the paragraph relate to 1952). In the Seychelles, the Director was paid £ 38,000 and had 5,000 children in its schools. Here are other examples;

I could continue with the whole range of colonies; but the example suffice to show that the salary of the head of a department bears no relation to the size and scope of that department’s responsibilities. Just look at North Borneo and Sarawak; similar salaries, similar educational expenditure, but one Director has twice as many pupils to look after than the other. Comparison of other departmental heads in different colonies would reveal a similar state of affairs; and would show that it is not a necessarily valid argument, that because salaries in Mauritius are lower than in other colonies, they ought to be put up.

How about the ability of the colony to pay higher salaries; can Mauritius afford more? On page 6 of the Sessional Paper, the salaries of six heads of departments are given, for a selection of colonies. In bold figures, Mauritius appears to be mean in paying consistently low salaries. But let us look at what percentage of the national revenue is represented by the total salaries of those six officers: Colonial and Financial Secretaries and Directors of Agriculture, Education, Medical Services and Public Works.

The large, rich and prosperous colonies listed above, below Mauritius, all pay higher salaries than Mauritius, but in no case is the percentage of revenue higher. Indeed, all but one are lower. The Sessional Paper quotes the Secretary of State as saying that “anything less than Zanzibar levels would fail to be attractive”. What percentage of its revenue does Zanzibar spend on the salaries of the six officers quoted? Over four times as much as Mauritius; 0.5%, in fact. (To raise Mauritius salaries to Zanzibar levels, for heads of departments, would mean increases of between 30 and 50 per cent. The Colonial Secretary would go up from £ 2,250 to £ 2,900, for example).

Expressing salaries as percentages of national revenue, therefore, Mauritius would not appear to be unduly ungenerous. And the Ramage Report has words of caution about the national revenue, which is based on the prosperity of the sugar industry. Mr Ramage warned (and his warning is still valid) that “a fall in sugar prices must be contemplated”; this would reduce the revenue of the Government, hence the ability of the Government to meet all its commitments. It would not, therefore, seem appropriate to increase the burden of salaries on the Government’s purse by increasing the incomes of the senior officers. The Acting Governor has referred to the fact that salaries in Government service at present compare unfavourably with salaries in private commerce; but here again Mr Ramage has a timely warning: “comparison with the higher rates in the various grades in the sugar industry has been excluded. This industry is now enjoying a period of affluence… Its salary levels appear not only to exceed those of comparable government posts but also… the general level of non-Government incomes… a fall in sugar prices must be contemplated, one result of which may be expected to be some reduction in the present level of gross emoluments of the various grades of staff employed by that industry”.

Of the Civil Servants in Mauritius, only 97 are expatriate officers. Only these 97 are liable to be affected by various factors mentioned by the Acting Governor, such as disinclination to stay in Mauritius. Only other expatriate officers who are possible replacements will be affected by the allegedly ‘low’ salaries and will be disinclined to transfer to Mauritius from elsewhere. But the Acting Governor should know that it is an unfounded fear that (to quote the Secretary of State) “at present salary levels, the senior super-scale posts in Mauritius would not attract officers from similar posts in small territories or indeed from less senior posts in any except small territories.”

No colonial Civil Servant is going to refuse a transfer which means promotion even if that promotion is not accompanied by an increase in salary. The ladder of the colonial Civil Servant is marked by rungs which do not all consist of money. There are decorations; there is the eventual possibility of a governorship and a title or attachment to the Colonial Office staff as an adviser, based in London and popping off to this and that corner of the world. Intangibles such as these are compensation for small incomes; if Mr Harford were still Colonial Secretary in Mauritius, his salary would be £ 2,250; instead he is Governor of St. Helena with a basic salary of £ 1,500 (plus allowances). But his status is higher; and the Governorship of a small colony is a step towards the Governorship of a larger one.

If there is to be a salary revision, it should apply to the lower-paid ranks of the civil service. 9,310 established civil servants share 48 million rupees in salaries, cost of living allowance, passages and rent assistance; but 8,000 labourers and casual workers employed by Government, all unestablished, share only 4 million rupees. Justice, and the right of every person to a tolerable minimum standard of living, demand that these unestablished workers, as well as the lowest-paid established employees, get the first increase in pay.

If, however, the proposal to give more to the officers already getting over Rs 10,320 is put into effect, the new Salaries Commissioner should have an additional duty to examining the adequacy or inadequacy of salaries. This additional duty should be to carefully scrutinise the work of every department to see if there are too many senior officers. Does every Head of Department need a Deputy? Is the work of the Observatory, for example, so onerous and important as to require a Deputy Director as well as a Director? Does the Director of Education really need two Assistant Directors as well as a Deputy? It is surely too much to ask that if the Salaries Commissioner is to examine the salaries of the senior officers, he should also examine the work of the departments to see if all the range of super-scale posts is justified.

There are a number of small colonies which, like Mauritius and the Seychelles, can never expect to be fully self-governing. Internal self-government is the highest degree of constitutional development (short of integration) to which they can look forward. That being so, it is probable that there will always be a number of expatriate Colonial Civil Servants employed in various colonies. It would not be inappropriate, therefore, if the salaries of such expatriates were paid by the Colonial Office in London, out of the colonial office vote, rather than by the colonial governments concerned. These expatriates are in the colonies for the benefit of the metropolitan power rather than the benefit of the colonial territory, and it would be just that the metropolitan power paid the salary, either directly or by grant-in-aid to the colonial government’s budget. There may be constitutional reasons why this is not done; but I have yet to hear them. Perhaps the Senior Professional Civil Servants Association might like to espouse the cause?

* Published in print edition on 4 August 2020

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