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Law on suspended public servants’ salaries makes sense, long overdue

A law to limit the time a senior Government official is paid with full benefits, when they are suspended pending an investigation for whatever reason, is long overdue.

The good news is that Parliament’s endorsement of the Salary Conditions Upon Suspension Amendment Bill 2020 at the beginning of the week is a big step to stop what can only be described as abuse of power and an utter waste of public monies.

We say this because we have seen countless cases in the past where senior public servants who were suspended and investigated continued to enjoy full benefits of their remuneration packages before their services were terminated.

In some cases, some of these public servants had been placed on suspension for a year, some a lot longer. Their services were eventually terminated which was a lot of money to pay some people who are eventually sacked. It was just mind-boggling.

We have to be careful of course. When public servants are accused, suspended and investigated, it’s important that they are treated as innocent until they are proven otherwise. Which has been and we suspect will continue to be the case.

But the practice of them enjoying such privileges and benefits, as if all is well when they are not working, is absurd. Further it does not make sense to continue to allow them to enjoy these benefits when someone else is already doing that job while they are barred from office. We are talking about extra funds required to pay Acting C.E.Os who step up in the interim.

Every time this happens, the burden to fork out for these expensive salaries and benefits is carried by those silent submissive taxpayers, including some of the poorest people in this country today.  

Which is why we say the passing of the law to stop this by Parliament this week is commendable and it makes perfect sense. It’s a mystery that it took the Government so long to finally come to their senses.

For the uninitiated, the new law now dictates that the General Manager, C.E.O., or whoever, if suspended, he or she is entitled to receive the salary for one month only from the effective date of the suspension.

If the official is acquitted of a charge and cleared of all allegations or any investigation relating to the subject of his or her suspension, he or she must be reinstated without loss of any benefit or status and paid the salary he or she lost as a result of any suspension from duty.

The law also clearly spells out that an official is not entitled to his or her salary if he or she is found guilty of the charges and as a result of the investigation; he or she is not reinstated. That’s a given, isn’t it?

Speaking outside Parliament, Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Mailelegaoi, said the new law is fair to both the employee and the employer.

 “There’s no big difference," he said, “the only difference is that the Government will not lose (money) because of this. In the old law, if the (suspended employee) is to wait for two years, and if that’s the C.E.O of a Ministry who is paid $120,000 a year, then that means he’s only going to sleep and eat and still receive his $120,000 plus the (Ministry) telephone.”

Tuilaepa said this is on top of other allowances and benefits they are entitled to, which is extremely costly to the Government. Other Members of Parliament agree with the Prime Minister and they have embraced the change.

We cannot disagree. While this law was long overdue, it’s better late than never. And it’s not just about saving taxpayers money, it should also serve as a deterrent measure for senior public servants who perhaps think that these suspensions and investigations are no big deal since they can just continue to enjoy their salaries and perks as if it’s normal. This should not be normal. Corruption, wrong doing and abuse of position and power, which is what senior public officials are often suspended and investigated over, cannot be treated as normal.

If there is anything we could add to the law, the Government should have perhaps considered the cases of senior public servants who are suspended, investigated and while an investigation is pending, they resign. Again, over the years and in recent times, we have seen a number of these cases. Some of these public servants have waltzed away scot-free to their next highly paid position when they should have been held to account for their deeds and actions. As a matter of fact, they should have been sacked for their poor performance.

We believe there should be a clause in there, if one doesn’t exist already, where Cabinet and Government can reject a resignation. This will not only protect the public office this person holds, it will also ensure the next employer is aware that the person they are hiring has a history.

And lastly, now that the Government has created this much-needed law for Government C.E.Os, General Managers and senior public servants, perhaps the next step would be to look at a similar law for Cabinet Ministers and Members of Parliament who might also find themselves in this predicament.

It’s just a thought. What do you think?

Have a peaceful Sunday Samoa, God bless!

 

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