Huge pay hikes were awarded to around 90 top civil servants just three months before a report raised serious concerns about performance in the public sector. Details of the increases, reported here for the first time, show that the highest paid civil servants now earn between $178,000 and $186,000.

The across-the-board salary hikes appear to fly in the face of Government's own much-touted Sustainable Development Strategy, which proposes performance-related pay - although the increases have been in the works for three years.

One well-placed senior civil servant, who did not want to be identified, said the pay increases should have been linked to performance.

"How can you reward people for non-performance?" the civil servant asked. Instead, everyone from hard workers to non-performers has ended up with fatter pay cheques.

Salary bill up by $1m

Assistant Cabinet Secretary Judith Hall-Bean, releasing details of the salary hikes following questions from the Bermuda Sun, said the pay rises, which took effect in April, were awarded to heads of departments, puisne judges and other professional posts, and the posts of assistant cabinet secretary, permanent secretary and secretary to Cabinet.

It means on average a $20,000 a year increase for the highest paid civil servants, the Cabinet Secretary and the Financial Secretary, who now earn just over $178,000. The posts of Puisne Judge and Auditor-General come with a salary of just over $163,000 - up from $143,000, while the Chief Justice is the top wage earner overall, with an $186,000 salary.

Mrs. Hall-Bean said as the result of the increase the total salary bill for the 90 posts has risen from $11.9 million to about $12.8 million.

She explained it has been several decades since civil servants' salaries had been reviewed. One reason for the review, which has been in the works for several years, was to make pay levels comparable with those in the private sector. She said the civil service had been experiencing difficulty in retaining and recruiting people for the top posts.

The draft Sustainable Development Strategy, which was prepared by civil servants, says performance levels in the civil service are not what they should be. It said "2004/5 performance appraisals showed that all civil servants who received a mark were rated as 'satisfactory' or better. This would not appear to be a true reflection of current performance."

It said pay and promotion should be based on "performance against agreed objectives and standards, set out in Forward Job Plans".

The strategy also said timely returns of forward job plans were low - in 2004 and 2005, the return rate for performance appraisals and job plans was just 62 per cent.

"The example must be set at the highest levels of the civil servants before being rolled out to lower levels. Poor performance should result in further training and development, with continued weaknesses being followed by demotion or dismissal."

It went on to say if this is not a priority, "it will be difficult to deliver many Government commitments on time and on budget, difficult to reward and encourage good performers while removing weak ones and difficult to recruit quality staff if they feel good work will not be properly recognized."

Mrs. Hall-Bean told us "a number of policies and procedures have been implemented to ensure a high level of performances and accountability for senior staff."

Meanwhile Peter Everson, president of the Chamber of Commerce, said he raised the pay rise issue in a meeting with Premier Alex Scott in April.

He said the Chamber had no view on whether the increases were justified. "The point I made is the Chamber of Commerce will expect in the future that civil servants and politicians will shoulder responsibility for delivering a level of service in governing the country the people have a right to expect."