Opinion: Outside the box

POSTED: 07/22/15 11:35 PM

We appreciate MP Maurice Lake’s elucidation on his call for more incentives for local professionals, but it has done little to change our point of view.

The bottom line is that an incentive is something you give away in exchange for a service. Like, say, affordable housing for those who want to come back to the island to work for the government.

Is this, as MP Lake calls it, in-kind? In other words, is there no money involved? We beg to differ, because there is – to use an old cliché – no such thing as a free lunch.

Somebody will have to pay for affordable housing. If a house costs $1,000 a month and the government wants to make it available for $600, who is going to cover the missing 400 bucks?

If the government is going to build affordable houses and offer them below market price to returning professionals, who will pay the shortfall on this investment?

And how is our cash-strapped government going to pay competitive salaries while everybody knows that income levels in Europe and the United States are much higher than in our country?

Indeed, we have to start thinking outside the box, but pretending that incentives are free of charge just does not cut it.

Incentives that create a real win-win situation are, for instance, good career perspectives. We do not have to pay top dollar to somebody who is fresh out of university, but we should offer qualified candidates a healthy outlook on the development of their careers.

Such career perspectives must be linked to performance, not to seniority. Sitting ten years on the same chair is not an achievement. If professionals give the country results, the country should response with tangible rewards. It is as simple as that.

Professionals who do not live up to their perceived status should start looking for another job if they are not prepared or incapable of improvement.

Woody Allen once said that 95 percent of life is just about showing up. That is obviously not the attitude a versatile civil service is waiting for.

In the end, it is all about giving citizens the best possible bang for their tax bucks. Right now, civil servants are so well protected that there does not seem to be an incentive to perform. That ought to change, if civil servants and the politicians who tout their horns want to make additional incentives for the best protected employees on the island palatable to private sector workers.

In this context, we note that the government is attempting to shove some of its responsibilities on the plate of the private sector. An example is the adopt-a-school project – a nice way of saying that the government wants to wash its hands off the maintenance of public schools. Let the private sector pay for it. But will there be any takers?

Another example is the call for cheap loans and mortgages for teachers, a call that later expanded to all civil servants.

Maybe this is thinking outside the box, but that is easy if you are making plans with other people’s money. If our banks have the space to offer cheaper loans at all, they ought to look at lower rates across the board, but we wonder if these financial institutions are ready for such a move. Recent data from the Central Bank show that net income of commercial banks fell dramatically in 2014 – from 247 to 193 million guilders. That is more a reason for higher than for lower rates.

Incentives are fine but to make them work they have to be tit for tat. On the business level, only a fool gives away something without making sure he gets the equivalent in return.

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