GROUNDVIEW: Civil society directors should make their salaries public

Coyness over what we earn is the current etiquette, but it needs to change.

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Photo of people protesting for higher wages
While some public officials are paid huge salaries, most South African workers battle to make ends meet. Archive photo: Masixole Feni

This week we published a widely read article on the very high salaries earned by the CEOs of government agencies. Twenty-four of the 111 agencies for which we could find information were paid more than R3 million each last year. Samson Moraba, the head of the National Housing Finance Corporation, was paid nearly R9 million (including a bonus). There are another 40 or so government agencies whose bosses’ salaries are not made public.

In our deeply unequal country there is understandable anger when it’s discovered that some people earn massive salaries, especially when they’re paid with public money. The newly introduced national minimum wage is R20 per hour, about R3,500 per month. It’s even harder for unemployed people: in 2017, one in five households depended on social grants for their main source of income — currently a maximum of R1,790 per person per month.

And yet we have a state official, like Moraba, earning over R700,000 per month. There cannot be a reasonable explanation for that.

Of course private sector salaries also deserve scrutiny. In 2016 we reported that it would take 290 years for a worker in a Checkers Deli to earn the R100 million CEO Whitey Basson was paid the previous year.

One sector of South African society has evaded scrutiny over its salaries until now: the non-profit one (of which GroundUp is a part). For years we have heard unverified stories of some civil society directors, publicly opposed to gross inequality, being paid six-digit monthly incomes, and not necessarily because they have scarce technical skills. But hardly any NGOs publish salary information, so it’s hard to know or prove. The same goes for local donor staff.

Activist organisations, donors, and public interest law firms receive most of their income from philanthropists and the international funding arms of governments and multilateral institutions. They advocate, debate and campaign in the public sphere. It is time all civil society organisations published salary information. CEOs of listed companies must do this, so why not NGOs?

Coyness over what we earn is the current etiquette, but it needs to change. If we are to properly understand and debate the causes and solutions of inequality, people need to be transparent about what they’re paid.

You can find the salary of GroundUp’s editor here.

TOPICS:  Economy

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