Mauritius Times – 60 Years Ago
By Peter Ibbotson
A correspondent has, over the pseudonym ‘A SOCIALIST’, laid some criticisms against my article ‘Dedicated to the Salaries Commissioner’, on May 3rd. He makes some “deductions” from selected quotations which cannot be borne out by any ordinary reading of what I wrote.
The Sessional Paper (a document which ex-M.L.C. S.B. Emile has rightly described as a document published to inform M.L.C’s about something the Government has already made up its mind about) on the revision of the salaries of the top civil servants says that salaries in Mauritius are low, by comparison with other colonies, and quotes comparative salaries to prove this assertion. But large, rich and prosperous colonies can afford to pay higher salaries; and if salaries are related to the ability of the colony to pay, then a comparison of the proportion of national revenue spent on salaries is relevant.
A colony such as Mauritius, paying 0.12 of its revenue on the salaries of the six heads of departments listed in the Paper, is actually more generous than a colony such as Kenya where the same six heads of departments are paid only 0.07 of revenue. Too high an expenditure (either in fact or in proportion to revenue) on salaries leads to a top-heavy economy.
The Times has rightly criticised recently the fact that in the Seychelles far too big a slice of national revenue goes to pay the salaries of the whole set-up of governance; yet only half as many people live in the Seychelles as in Port Louis alone! Seeing what proportion of revenue is spent on salaries of heads of departments is a fair comparison. Too high a proportion means that other heads of expenditure may be neglected.
I referred to the 97 expatriates who are serving in Mauritius. This figure, says my critic, is misleading; the figure is by no means fixed. In a treatise on astronomy, one takes the sun for granted; in an article based on a certain Sessional Paper, one takes the contents of that Paper for granted. Hence the figure 97. It may be 96 by now; it may be 98 by next August – we don’t know. Whatever the number, I maintain that Overseas Civil Servants should, as long as the territory in which they are serving is not completely self-governing, be paid by the Colonial Office. As a colony advances towards self-government, the increase in political responsibility will be matched by a reduction in the number of expatriates in its Civil Service, hence an increase in its financial responsibility as the responsibility for paying salaries is transferred from the Colonial Office (for expatriates) to the colony (for its own nationals).
In the list of those to be paid by the Colonial Office, I would include all members of the Overseas Civil Service, and all expatriates, i.e. all persons employed in a colony’s Civil Service who are not nationals of the colony in which they are serving whether members of the Overseas Civil Service or not. But, as to different salary scales for expatriates and others, no one has suggested any such retrograde step except ‘A SOCIALIST’ himself. Of course, the same salary should be paid, whether the Civil Servant is paid (under my scheme) by the Colonial Office or by the colonial government itself.
Of course, my suggestion would not mean that posts at present filled by expatriates would be forever reserved for expatriates. No one with an atom of common sense could ever think such a nonsensical thing. Behind my suggestion lies the desire to correlate political and financial responsibility; to relieve certain small and poor colonies from a heavy salary burden until such time as they are completely self-governing.
Under my suggested scheme, what would happen is this. All the present Overseas Civil Servants in Mauritius would be paid in future by the Colonial Office. Any replacement by another Overseas Civil Servant would also be paid by the Colonial Office. Anyone serving in the Civil Service in Mauritius who was liable to transfer to another colony even if he were not a member of the Overseas Civil Service, would also have his salary paid by the Colonial Office.
This state of affairs would continue until Mauritius becomes fully self-governing; when the Colonial Office would stop paying salaries and Mauritius would have increased financial responsibility commensurate with its added political responsibility. But if any of the officers referred to were replaced by an officer not a member of the Overseas Civil Service and not liable to transfer to another colony, then responsibility for the payment of salary would at once pass from the Colonial Office to the Mauritius Government.
Certainly, this would be a subsidy from the Imperial Government to the colonies, but in the past the Imperial power has made a profit out of the colonies. For example, as examples of how Britain profits from her colonial possessions, let us look at Malaya.
Malaya produces one-third of the world’s rubber and vast quantities of tin. Between 1946 and 1951 Britain made over £360 million profit out of selling rubber and tin from Malaya. In the same period, Britain made over £130 million out of East and West Africa by buying cheap and selling dear such commodities as cocoa and palm oil. Britain’s total debt to the colonies is over £3,500 million!
It is not too much to ask that Britain helps the smaller and poorer colonies to pay their civil servants. After all, as I have said before, the top civil servants are in the colony primarily for the benefit of the imperial power and only secondarily for the benefit of the colony itself. Were one a cynic, indeed, one might say that any benefit accruing to the colonial peoples themselves is purely accidental.
With salaries paid from the Colonial Office, the many anomalies existing in salaries paid in the various territories could be ironed out. I am very much aware of the many anomalies regarding salaries throughout the Mauritius Civil Service; and it would be an excellent thing to have these fully examined and corrected. The Customs Officers, for example, would be very glad to have all their problems dealt with – this I know very well indeed.
Where do I get my information that “8,000 labourers and casual workers employed by the Government… share only 4 million rupees”? (It is the figure of 4 million which ‘A SOCIALIST’ describes as surely wrong). I get my information from a source whose reliability as regards statistical information on Mauritius I have never yet had reason to doubt – the Government of Mauritius itself. On page 8 of Sessional paper No. 6 of 1957 we can read that
“In the 1956-57 estimates the total provision for salaries, wages, rent assistance, passages and cost-of-living allowances was as follows:
(b) Wages paid under Other Charges – Rs 4,017,322. On 30 June 54, the Public Works Department employed 4,482 daily-paid persons, at wages ranging from Rs 1.45 to Rs 7.30 per day. If they were all paid at the top rates applicable to the various grades, and if they were all fully employed for 300 days in the year, their total wages would have been Rs 5,863,341.”
At the lowest rates applicable, their total wages would have been Rs 4,268,115 for 300 days work. But, the P.W.D. doesn’t give 300 days work a year to all its daily-paid employees; like other departments, it reserves its major works for the intercrop; so that these possible earnings should be cut by one-third, I estimate, and then they would still be generous. No — failing further data from the Government, I stick to my figures from the Sessional Paper on salary revision.
With one of my critic’s remarks I am in complete agreement. That is when he says that “the facts are shocking enough”. It would be more to the point to dispense with a salaries commissioner to see if top civil servants should be paid more, and to have a Commissioner to enquire into and report on unemployment in Mauritius. Then we should see…!
4th Year No 148 – Friday 7th June 1957
* Published in print edition on 29 September 2020
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