Dual salary regime has outlived its purpose

Focus, Normal

The National, Wednesday July 31st, 2013

 THE dual salary regime in Papua New Guinea that disadvantages nationals  by a big margin is causing a brain drain and must end, writes DR GARRY SALI

ON September 16,  Papua New Guinea will celebrate 38 years of political independence from Australia. 

By then the unjust dual salary regime would have been in existence in this country for more than 38 years. 

Over the years, successive governments have failed to address this critical issue which cuts deeply through the minds of talented and genuine Papua New Guinean professionals in different fields. 

It is profoundly painful and agonising to accept what is being dished out. 

The continuation of this unfair dual salary system is absolutely ludicrous – it must be replaced by a single pay structure implemented across the country.  

In 2008, then prime minister Sir Michael Somare replying to a question from Western goverBob Danaya, told Parliament  there was a need for the dual salary structure to be examined, reviewed and adjusted so that a single salary structure for both nationals and expatriates be proposed and accepted all across the board. 

After five years, where is the dual salary review and the single line salary structure? 

In June this year, responding to questions raised by Bougainville MP Joe Lera on the dual salary system used by PNG universities,  Higher Education Research, Science and Technology Minister David Arore stressed that it was  being looked into with a aim of introducing a single salary structure for all academics, local or expatriate. 

Will this be more mere political talk? We hope not. We need action to be taken now. 

In the political and bureaucrats fronts, it is known that the dual salary structure is an injustice and an insult to an educated Papua New Guinean. 

Deep in their minds, they know what is being protected and carried on over the years is ethically wrong in all facets.

What lacks is the political willpower and bureaucratic strength of character to bring this important change so that history is made today for future generations of talented Papua New Guineans. 

Retrospectively, the dual salary system was adopted and tailored to meet the needs and circumstances during the colonial era. 

Originally, the dual salary structure was adopted before independence when PNG did not have specialised and qualified people in the workforce.

Expatriates were then recruited on higher salary packages to attract skilled manpower to the remote colonial outpost of Papua and New Guinea that lacked suitable qualified and experienced personnel. 

Their job priority was to train Papua New Guineans. 

In a nutshell, such a policy was justified by the circumstances and fitting for that time. 

Papua New Guineans have come a long way and there are large number of them academically qualified and have excelled in different key fields. 

There is a pool of large national expertise available now.

Hence, a review of the dual salary system to reflect this national skilled manpower available is long overdue.

It is time for PNG to have an equal salary structure for both nationals and expatriates to enjoy – PNG can afford it.

A well-educated and skilled Papua New Guinean finds it hard to absorb the discriminatory treatment being dished out by an outdated and unjustified salary regime that has been institutionalised.

It demeans, demoralises, and discourages skilled Papua New Guineans who are able to perform the same job with equal output (or sometimes better) but who are rewarded two or three times less than expatriate colleagues. 

It devalues the committed efforts and outputs of the national professionals and indeed they are reduced to second class citizens in their own land. 

Hence, the frustrations of keeping up with this mediocre system has forced PNG’s finest brains to look for jobs elsewhere while expatriates keep arriving in this land of milk and honey.

In an article titled, Brain drain: PNG continues to lose its best and brightest, published in June 2013, it reveals that many of PNG’s elite-educated are decamping to Australia and around the world, taking with them readymade skills and talents. 

It is estimated that as many as 2000 Papua New Guineans professionals are in Australia because of job opportunities. 

The report said that Papua New Guineans are experiencing better job opportunities than ever before, with Australian companies wasting no time looking for PNG’s homegrown talent to help boost its buoyant industries.

The report blames the extreme dual salary regime whereby expatriates are paid three to four times more than PNG nationals performing similar or the same jobs.

The dual salary system that exists mostly in the academic and bureaucratic institutions and private sector industries such as mining must be reviewed urgently. 

There must be a single salary structure for both national and expatriate professionals. 

This is not to downgrade and reduce salaries currently enjoyed by expatriate colleagues.

The salaries of expatriates must be maintained or increased depending on the policy directions of the government. 

What is needed is to bring the salaries of nationals on par with the expatriate colleagues. 

I was at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji as an academic and there is no dual salary system there. 

I guess this is same for many other countries of the South Pacific and the world over. 

Living expenses are both shared equally by nationals and expatriates. 

Is there a different price to be paid for a packet of milk in the stores in this country for nationals and expatriates? 

Is there a different price to be paid for a car in this country for nationals and expatriates?

If the standard of living is twice or three times higher for an expatriate living in this country, then the dual salary structure is justified. 

This unfair salary establishment has been allowed to undermine Papua New Guinea’s own human capital base. 

When will the PNG government listen to its own intellectuals? 

It is better to get rid of the dual salary structure now rather than leave a mess for future generations to deal with. 

It will be an historical move that will be appreciated for generations to come.

  • Dr Garry Sali is an associate professor and head of the Department of Communication and Development Studiesat the Papua New Guinea University of Technology. The views expressed here are his own and do not reflect those of the department and the university.