The Pay Raise issue continues to pop up and despite the fact that people continue to declare the issue munhayan yan ma’pos. There is another Bill in the Legislature up for a vote that would repeal the raises for elected officials. Even if it gets through the Legislature the Governor, given his statements will most definitely veto it.
This issue brings up very important points about governance and about the connection or lack of connection that people feel to their governments in a democracy. In a democratic society, the government is supposed to represent the people, but that responsibility that people have is sometimes rejected, primarily because people want to cover their apathy or their lack of engagement. They complain more ferociously because they are not engaged, because they may not actually know what is going on.
This does not mean that their critiques are not without merit, but only that they are often not very productive because the passion or conviction with which they are spoken has no bearing to how effective they are, or how much those critiquing actually understand. It is intriguing in this controversy to see how so many people direct their ire to the Guam Legislature, simply because they were the ones doing the listening. They were the ones responding to the public’s frustration, the ones meeting with them, even proposing legislation, and so because they offered these spaces for discussion, they end up receiving the majority of the negative attention. The Governor’s office in contrast, which was the one who compelled the Legislature to act on the issue, and made some of the more bewildering statements that are the ones really offending people, has been kept out of it, primarily because they are not engaging with the community over their concerns.
This issue of Pay Raises is a perfect example of how people in democracies must take seriously even the small, limited role they play in governance, and if they don’t, the whole enterprise can be quickly rendered pointless. The conversation over the raises has been going on for years, decades depending on how far you want to trace its genesis. There were some grumblings this was broached early last year but no one protested. People are joining it now and may have always been against it, if only they had known. But there is the disconnect, why didn’t they know? It wasn’t a secret, it was covered throughout local news. The hope is always that people will pay more attention, see the way they can and should have an impact. Lao ta li’e’.
At the core of this issue though was a lack of leadership by Guam’s leaders. With a huge excess of funds, there should have been a conversation over what to do with this money. To implement these pay raises just a few weeks after an election smacks of everything that people loathe about Guam’s government. It seems so odious, so political, puru ha’ politrix este ta’lo. Many of the people who complained felt like there should have been more thought given to the wider community. After all, if you compare the minimum wage increase for the island as a whole to the sometimes massive raises some elected officials are receiving (in addition to their retro pay), it seems and feels so wrong. Kulang na’ma’ase no? This pay raise issue more than anything showed the way in which governments become their own entities and organisms and have their own internal logic, which can appall those on the outside. The government must take care of its own as well as everyone else, both in terms of electoral politics, but also to keep the government running smoothly. With this extra money, an election just finished it seemed the perfect time to reward GovGuam employees for their hard work and their support in the recent election. Often times the span between election day and inauguration day is thought of as dead time, where there is nothing to do for politicians or when no one is watching. It becomes the perfect time to sneak things through, to pass things with less political risk.