Government leaders announced the launch of a review of compensation for public officers to be led by the Trinidad and Tobago-based company PricewaterhouseCoopers International Limited. (Photo: DANA KAMPA)

Asked to identify their primary job-related concern, 79 percent of Virgin Islands public officers who took a recent survey mentioned insufficient pay.

Those concerns may soon be addressed with the start of a nine-month compensation review for public service employees.

Leaders shared the details of the plan at a launch ceremony on Oct. 10 at the BVI Financial Services Commission offices.

During the event, Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley said such a review should take place every two to three years, but one hasn’t taken place in the territory for two decades.

Cabinet agreed to a salary review in January 2021, and the premier signed a $302,103 contract with the Trinidad and Tobago-based office of PricewaterhouseCoopers International Limited on Sept. 27.

This contract allowed the Deputy Governor’s Office to engage the company to lead the review, according to DGO Permanent Secretary Sharleen DaBreo-Lettsome.

By the end of the nine months, she added, the territory should have a model for creating a more competitive public service that rewards workers’ competencies rather than focusing on position titles.

The new system will help establish base pay for various jobs while also creating space for performance bonuses and other benefits and helping to plan for compensation to keep pace with inflation and market values over time, according to Ms. DaBreoLettsome.

She added that groups from within the public service will work alongside the consultants.

Compensation for public officers has been a longstanding issue, with teachers holding a “sickout” in November 2021 prompted by overdue stipends and backpay, crumbling infrastructure, and otherwise lacking resources.

Increased cost

Dr. Wheatley acknowledged in his remarks on Oct. 10 that adjusting compensation will affect the territory’s budget.

However, he noted that much has changed since the last review in 2002. The population has grown significantly, and the demand for public services has grown with it, he said.

He added that signing the contract cemented the government’s commitment to proper compensation.

“Some say we cannot afford to compensate public officers what they are worth. To them, I say we cannot afford not to,” he said. “Every month, we lose a high-quality public officer to the private sector or even to the United States, Canada or the United Kingdom. In order to retain the best talent, you have to provide fair compensation and benefits. We must also bring more value to the critical areas that help our society to grow.”

2017 survey

Ms. DaBreo-Lettsome said a 2017 survey showed about 2,400 people were working with the public service. A report on last year’s Standing Finance Committee deliberations late last year showed that 300 officers were in a position to retire and another 300 were approaching the 20-year mark.

“This is quite a serious situation for us to consider, and we must have ways of continuing to build capacity and ensuring that we are maintaining the level of quality of public officers as we move forward,” Ms. DaBreo-Lettsome said.

Dr. Wheatley said affirmation needs to come in ways besides a paycheque as well, including lifting morale and creating a “culture of excellence.”

The premier said he looks forward to working with the Civil Service Association, the BVI Teachers Union, the Police Welfare Association and other advocacy groups to assess their needs.

Governor John Rankin agreed that the review is needed to help support a top-class public service that values the importance of technical and specialist skills as well.

“But we also need a fair and transparent system, ensuring that we always remain an equal-opportunity public service, valuing staff in their varying diversities,” he said.

Once the review is complete, he said, the government will need to consider the recommendations and decide how best to move forward, taking into account the “overall demands of the public purse.”

“But I’m confident that we’re all committed to having a properly rewarded public service delivering to the highest standard,” he added.