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...MPs: Salaries ridiculous

By Ria Taitt Political Editor

It is so ridiculous! Absolutely disrespectful!

Members of Parliament expressed anger yesterday over the recommendations of the Salaries Review Commission (SRC) on their compensation package.

The consensus was that there was a clear lack of appreciation by the membership of the SRC of the role of Members of Parliament and the significance of the job that they do.

“They (the SRC) give us a $3,000 (increase) monthly before tax and the judges $20,000 (more, which is tax-free),” one source argued. 

The SRC treated members of the judiciary favourably with salaries way over those recommended for members of the legislature.

Sources also cited the recommended salaries for chairman of the PSC —$24,620; chairman of the Integrity Commission—$28,720; chairman of the Registration, Recognition and Certification Board—$21,260; chairman of the Elections and Boundaries Commission—$21,570; and chairman of the Equal Opportunities Commission—$21,570 pointing out that they had neither the responsibilities, workload, nor accountability of an MP.

 The SRC recommended for MPs without portfolio, a salary of $17,400 before tax and a transport allowance of $6,600 before tax and senators without portfolio, a salary of $13,000 a month and a transport allowance of $4,500 before tax.  

Adding insult to injury for the MPs is the recommendation of the SRC to cut the allowances given to MPs with respect to the purchase of cars.

 For more than 20 years, Members of Parliament have received full exemptions of custom duties, VAT and motor vehicle tax when they buy a vehicle.

 One source described the altering of this entitlement as unconstitutional.

 “There are all kinds of judgments against employers to try to cut workers’ pay and every time these things have gone to court the ruling is the same—you cannot reduce an employee’s package to his or her disadvantage without their agreement,” the source said.

 Asked whether this was unconstitutional, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan said he was aware of the legal argument but declined any further comment.

 He said he was aware that “everybody” was upset about the recommendation to remove the car allowance.

“We have not had a pay increase since 2005. And after eight years, you come and give us $3,000 before tax. And you want us to work 24/07, scrutinise billions of dollars of expenditure, be available on call, be pillars of integrity and morality and (have the Parliament) meet from 8 a.m. in the morning, have no other job and after eight years $3,000 before tax, while judges have $20,000 tax-free. And to crown it off, our reward after eight years is a cut in benefits (vis a vis the car allowances),” the source said.  

Laventille East/Morvant MP Donna Cox told the Express that the SRC Report told her how little value that commission placed on MPs.

 “They don’t fully understand the role and function of a member of Parliament,” stated Cox.

 Cox said the SRC had not taken into consideration the fact that members of Parliament work full-time.

 “You know where I am now? In my constituency talking to people and organising a children’s Christmas party.

 “It is not part-time. If something happens to anyone in the constituency, I can’t tell them that I only work eight to four, or that I don’t work on a Saturday or Sunday. You have to try and help people regardless of the time of day or night,” Cox said.

Cox said clearly the SRC made no comparisons with MPs’ salaries in the Caribbean.

 “We are way below the international benchmark,” she said, adding that she was aware that a study was done and the information presented. 

Cox said she knew that a lot of MPs on both the Government and Opposition benches are very upset over the SRC recommendation.

Government Leader Dr Roodal Moonilal said he was aware of the “disquiet and discontent” of members of Parliament and he was aware of the contents of the SRC report.

 “But this matter is before Cabinet right now, so I cannot divulge information nor prejudice the deliberations of Cabinet on the matter.”

 Moonilal said Cabinet would be in a position to “move forward” on the report in one to two weeks’ time. Sources also pointed to the salaries of chairmen of commissions and boards who, they said, generally meet once a week, do not have the work load nor the level of accountability of MPs and who have a cadre of public servants to assist them and follow their instructions.

“In most modern democracies, Parliament is seen as the central institution of democracy and its members are remunerated for the work they are expected to perform. In most jurisdictions, a MP is paid so that the public can demand a certain standard of performance.

 “In this country that is not so...for the commission, year after year, to keep missing the point is just disrespectful,” one parliamentary source stated.

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