Public sector swells
The number of public servants in Samoa is growing rapidly - a development which opposition parties say they hope is to fulfil a genuine purpose and not to win political favour.
Though data sources vary in reliability, conservative estimates suggest that the size of the civil service has ballooned by just over 40 per cent over the past seven years and 24 per cent in the same period prior.
According to the Public Service Commission's (P.S.C.) 2018-2019 Annual Report, the total public sector workforce is made up of 10,930 full and part-time employees.
A World Bank report published last year and using the Government’s own data showed that Samoa had about 7700 public sector personnel in 2012, an increase from just under 6500 in 2006. No caveat is provided to suggest that part-time workers are excluded from the statistics.
By contrast, yearly employment growth recorded by the Samoa Bureau of Statistics showed a drop of 2.9 and 2 per cent for the December 2017 and March 2018 quarters respectively.
The March 2017 year-on-year report, by contrast, was positive at 0.1 per cent and 2015 recorded a 1.8 per cent jump in formal employment. Annual figures were not provided.
Attempts to seek figures from the Ministry of Commerce Industry and Labour were not successful. But as late as 2016 the Ministry was estimating that as few as 4000 Samoans were employed by the public sector, putting them at considerable variance with not just the bank but the Finance chief who agreed more than 10,000 employees were now on the payroll.
When asked about the seemingly rapid increase, the Head of the Ministry of Finance (M.O.F.), Leasiosiofaasisina Oscar Malielegaoi, said it was largely due to the expanding mandates of the Government.
"It is expanding," he said in an interview with the Samoa Observer this week.
"[The] public sector is expanding because, remember, as the mandates of the Government expands, people are needed to implement it."
Leasiosio took the Fire and Emergency Services for example of increasing manpower due to the extension of their emergency services.
"As you can see, they have been equipped by the Government with more vans since the establishment of the 911 call centre which needs additional staff to man those areas,” he said.
The recently tabled national budget allocated a total of $228,386,000 in salaries and wages.
Samoa National Democratic Party spokesman, Vui Masinamua Masinalupe said an increase in the number of those employed for the public had the potential to increase services on offer to Samoans.
But Vui also said he hopes the increased number of the workforce in the public sector is not just for show.
"The biggest question is, will these newly established jobs and increased numbers be sustained?," asked Vui.
"Are these jobs permanent, or are they just opportunities for the people in preparations of the General Election, in order to push the [Human Rights Protection Party] and Tuilaepa [Dr. Sailele Maliegaoi]?"
The P.S.C. annual report showed that permanent jobs more than doubled at the end of the reporting year on a year-on-year basis.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (M.A.F.) had the most new permanent positions established at a total of 22, with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (M.N.R.E.) and Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (M.F.A.T.) next in line.
Temporary roles, by contrast, increased with the M.N.R.E. (76) and S.B.S. (52) due to field works conducted for national surveys and forestry improvement activities funded by development partners," the report reads.
Leasiosio added that despite the expansion of the public workforce, apart from state-owned enterprises which are fully self-funded, Ministry workers' salaries are restricted to take up only 35-38 per cent of total Government expenditure.
"For the wage bill, we are still within that ratio [of] at least 35 per cent to 38 per cent of current expenditure, spent on personnel," said Leasiosio.
"The reason why we control is, for example, if we were to spend 80 per cent on personnel, they would be just sitting around with no work to do, because there's no money left for developments.
"That is why we try to streamline and contain the number of personnel so that we have enough money for development."
Vui alleges that the growing number of public servants may be working in the favour of the Government at the moment, in order to push their agenda of staying in Government.
"Right now you see so many vehicles going around to villages and families with their tasks and promoting the role of the current Government, but after the election, they might just be mucking around," he said.
"We acknowledge that there are job opportunities for our people, but another worry is to also see if they are being paid well."
According to P.S.C. Annual Report 2018–2019, the cost of personnel remuneration was expected to increase significantly in anticipation of the Health merger.
The majority of the Public Service Workforce have at least a School Certificate/P.S.S.C. level qualification.
Some 34.1 per cent of the total Public Service Workforce have a Diploma qualification followed by Bachelor degree qualification (21.5 per cent).