Friday, February 19, 2010

Thou shalt not covet

In Parliament this morning it was revealed that Victor Parlicov the head of Moldova's energy regulator, ANRE, takes home a monthly salary of 19,700 MDL per month.

This arrangement was criticised by the Communists (even though they put it in place; go figure...) but also by a number of contributors to forums on the free press.  In a country where most earn salaries of around 1,000 MDL, 19,700 seems preposterous and greedy.  It's only natural for those earning a lot less to be envious and covet Mr Parlicov's salary.

Now convert the figures to Euros.  At current exchange rates, 19,700 MDL is about EUR 1,135.  That's about what a middle manager  or a mid-range specialist earns in Bucharest.  Note that, in the United Kingdom, it would actually be illegal to pay anyone so little, as Mr Parlicov's salary is under the minimum wage.

This brings to light a critical issue which Moldova needs to face.  The country desperately needs skilled specialists and managers in many areas.  The Moldovan diaspora probably has the necessary skills and experience to fill the gaps, and in many cases would like to come home.  But they're not going anywhere if it means cutting their salaries to a fraction of what they are currently earning in Western Europe and North America.

The simple fact is that if you pay peanuts, you will get monkeys (or even worse, communists) running Moldova's businesses and government agencies.  In order to attract the right sort of talent, salaries will need to paid which are close to those available internationally.

In the short term this is going to seem very unfair.  Mr Parlicov gets paid around 20 times as much as junior staff in his organisation, and in truth he's not worth 20 times as much.

The problem, however, is not with Mr Parlicov's salary, but with the miniscule amounts being paid to junior staff and unskilled workers.  Those micro-salaries are a function of Moldova's chronic underdevelopment in the two decades since independence.

The focus has to be on lifting salaries by growing the real economy.  Moldova needs to resume its role as a major exporter of food products to Russia.  It needs to develop service industries (e.g. outsourcing, education) that bring in foreign exchange.  It needs to substitute imports (e.g. replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy).

So, if you are one of those wistfully looking at Mr Parlicov and wishing you were earning his salary, my counsel is to be part of the solution:

  1. Bite your tongue; many of those earning good wages have actually earned them though experience, training, hard work and initiative.
  2. Equip yourself for the modern economy.  Learn English, Spanish or Chinese.  Acquire skills that will equip you for sunrise industries such as IT, biotech, renewable energy.
  3. Work hard, work smart and prove your value to your employer.
  4. Put a good resume together.  Stick at your job for at least two years before moving on.  Select your next role so that it helps you achieve your long-term goals; don't fall prey to short-term expediency.
  5. At the right point in time, set up your own business using the capital and skills you have accumulated, as well as that clever idea that's in the back of your mind.
Do all this and you will wake up one day to find that you have become Mr Parlicov.  Better still, you'll find yourself working in a country where even juniors can earn a decent living.

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