Saturday, December 16, 2017

Cabinet says no to big salary hikes

THE big salary increases proposed by the Parliamentary House Committee for Members of Parliament, including the House of Representatives, Senate and the Tobago House of Assembly, have not been accepted by Cabinet, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar said yesterday.

She said Cabinet, however, has agreed to implement the more modest increases recommended by the Salaries Review Committee (SRC), which is a standing body appointed by the President under the Constitution.

Persad-Bissessar was speaking to the media while attending the annual Siparia Women’s Association’s Kiddies Carnival competition at Bhupsingh Park, Penal Junction. 

Following the interview, Persad-Bissessar issued a statement giving details on the decision.

She stated that based on legal advice concerning the removal of benefits currently being paid to office holders, Cabinet has agreed to retain the practice of allowing the exemption of import duty, VAT and motor vehicle taxes for MPs.

“In its 98th Report, the SRC, after careful deliberations, including receiving for the first time direct representations from Members of Parliament, had recommended interim increases for the Prime Minister, Attorney Gene­ral, Cabinet and non-Cabinet ministers, Speaker, President of the Senate, Leader of the Opposition and MPs, pending a comprehensive job-evaluation exercise and compensation survey,” she said.

The SRC, however, also proposed removal for MPs of the exemptions covering the purchase of motor vehicles—taxes and duty.

Persad-Bissessar stated several Members of Parliament strongly argued the SRC had not recognised the realities of current demands and the considerable time and effort required to serve at the parliamentary level. 

“This, many felt, virtually required parliamentary representation to be full-time, precluding the ability to earn additional remuneration,” she said.

Persad-Bissessar said the SRC’s report was in turn studied by the Parliamentary House Committee, which bears responsibility for the “comfort and convenience of members of the House of Representatives”. 

Higher levels of salary increases, plus new duty, professional and housing allowances, were proposed, against what the House Committee said were compelling arguments, highlighting, among other matters, assessments with comparable private-sector jobs, she stated.

“St Joseph Member of Parliament Terrence Deyalsingh had publicly reflected the sentiments of many members that new standing regulations would have required even greater input from members who will now be required to sit on additional standing committees.

“Cabinet noted it was mindful of the arguments made in the House Committee Report, including the fact that the last pay increases for MPs were implemented eight years ago.

“In the last SRC review of 2008/2009, it was recom­mended and agreed by the then Cabinet to maintain existing salary levels.”

Persad-Bissessar said Cabinet pointed out that in view of the country’s present economic challenges and particularly the level of pay increases maintained for public-service officers and even workers in the private sector, it agreed it was not appropriate to implement the much higher levels of remuneration increases to top office holders and MPs, as suggested in the House report.

“Further, Cabinet was advised that the Constitution and other laws ‘in very express terms protected the remuneration arrangements of certain office holders’ and therefore any proposed limitation of the tax/duty exemptions will violate the Constitution.

“In light of this, Cabinet decided that the existing benefits afforded for the purchase of motor vehicles will be retained,” she added.

Persad-Bissessar departs Trinidad and Tobago today for China, where she is scheduled to pay a courtesy call on the President of China, Xi Jinping, and to officially open the Trinidad and Tobago Embassy in Beijing.