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Civil servants: financial whiz kids or rogue elements?


“I think our government pegs the salaries of civil servants on the assumption that we are all financial geniuses who can miraculously survive on a salary of $170 or less,” said Joe.

Joe is a bitter civil servant and when he starts to personify the government, we know it is a sign he wants to pour vitriol against his employer.

Out of sympathy we normally let him rattle on.

Joe is normally your quiet type of guy whose tongue can only be loosened by, as we say in ghetto lingo, “one or two”, a reference to lagers, or bitterness.

“Do you know that technically, as a civil servant, I’m practically barred from the following (counting his fingers in an emphatic manner):

Owning a television set, the licence fee will chew almost half your salary;

Sending your children to good schools, you must never entertain such dreams;

Buying a loaf of bread each day of the month;

Renting or buying decent accommodation

Visiting relatives and friends where transport costs exceed 5 rand for a one-way ticket . . .?”

“But . . .” Charlie wanted to interject and Joe would have none of it, waving him away in a sweeping, dismissive gesture.

“No Charlie, you’re not a civil servant and you don’t know how it feels to go home empty-handed every month.

“Do you know the result?

“Civil servants are forced to be creative to survive.

I’m surprised that all of you, including government, fail to link the act to the result.

You behave like members of some primeval tribe who fail to link such basic things as the sex act to pregnancy.”

He clicked his tongue and pointed an accusing finger at my chest as if I was his version of government.

“You guys from the media just report, report and report about us in your usual shallow way without going deep into the source of problems.

Do you know what a $170 monthly salary will do to a civil servant?

“The word money will roast your mind the way a brick is roast in a kiln.

You’ll always be thinking of ways to manoeuvre a dollar into your pocket.

This is when you look at your nearest resources.

“As a teacher, I do a perfunctory job in the classroom and a good job during ‘extra lessons’ to force my resources, the students, to pay more.

“What do you expect a policeman to do?

“You expect him to sit back, relax and pray that by some miracle $150 or $170 will multiply like the biblical fish and bread to feed his family?

If he’s a traffic cop, then the traffic is his resource that, if used properly, will put bread on his table.

He openly demands bribes so that even if a motorist is driving a vehicle with no book value he’s let to go scot-free.

The resultant carnage on the roads is none of his business.

How many useless roadblocks have you seen on a single road?

“If a cop catches a rich criminal by any standards (standards are determined exclusively by the degree of the cop’s desperation at that hour), what do you think will be the greater temptation, professional calling or the envisaged and obvious bribe in lieu of the criminal’s freedom?

“Which is the stronger temptation; to let the criminal go to jail and starve or to let him go so that he (the cop) can feed his family?

“Will you be surprised if the same cop hires out his service gun to criminals for a spoon of rice?

“Gentlemen, let us not have illusions here, we all work for our masters and our masters are our stomachs.

We follow their dictates.

“Do you think a passport or immigration officer looks at that document as a legitimate travel pass?

Doesn’t it represent a chance for him to feed his or her family, a chance to send his/her kids to decent schools, a chance to build a decent house for his/her family?

With the impetus of $150 or $170 dollars behind his/her actions what do you expect?

You expect the passport officer to genially serve thousands of people, then go back home to watch his uneducated and unclothed children starve?

“Isn’t it too much, in our circumstances, to expect a soldier to look at his service rifle as a weapon whose sole purpose is to protect our nation?

How many stories have we read in your papers (again pointing at my chest) where soldiers have turned robbers?

“And you’ve had the temerity to describe them as rogue, unruly, uncouth, corrupt etc depending on the depth or shallowness of your vocabulary.

I don’t condone crime myself but for me it’s the $150 salary or the one who pays it that’s rogue, unruly, uncouth, corrupt etc depending on how you want to express it.

“You’ve written about soldiers being suspected of smuggling diamonds.

What did you expect?

That they guard them with their lives for a salary that’s not worth your kids’ pocket money?

Do you expect them to loyally guard high-ranking officials as they smuggle the same gems for their benefit?

Please give us a break.

The impetus is the $170 or $150, whichever of the two you choose. We’re not financial whiz kids who can turn . . .”

He did not finish because at that moment, Zesa switched off power and the night club was plunged into darkness and chaos as bar tenders fumbled for matches, candles and a generator.

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