Members of Parliament should be properly paid and not be beholden onto the Prime Minister for fat salaries, says Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley.
He raised the point during his contribution to the motion to adopt the 98th Report of the Salaries Review Commission at the Parliament sitting yesterday.
Rowley said the Prime Minister has the power to appoint any number of people to her Cabinet and those people receive enhanced emoluments.
“We had the situation where one person went actually on a fast to ensure that he is elevated to Cabinet rank and the only change that brought about was an improvement in the emoluments,” said Rowley.
He pointed out that in the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) there are limited numbers of secretaries, whereby at the national level of the Cabinet any amount can be appointed to ensure they are comfortable.
“Prime ministers are happy with the current arrangement because it allows them to control members of the House of both sides. It is this prime ministerial control that stands in the way of effective parliamentary oversight of the country,” said Rowley.
He said as Opposition Leader he gave the commitment that under his stewardship there will be a Cabinet of no more than 17 members.
He said once Members of Parliament are paid properly, there is no need to “kiss up” to the Prime Minister, or fear losing a portfolio if the Prime Minister is offended.
“I’ve been through that, Mr Speaker. Thank God I have a wife who mind me and my children because when I was fired from the Cabinet and went on the back bench, immediately my circumstances changed completely, because the emoluments of a member of the House is so different from a member of the Cabinet... as long as that is so, there will be no change in the effectiveness of the Parliament and there will be no change in the country’s management and the corruption will continue... because the Prime Minister is in control of members of the House in such a way that she dictates exactly what they earn by virtue of who goes in the Cabinet and who goes out.”
Rowley said there are also ministers on Parliament committees who are “examining themselves’’ with respect to looking into State enterprises and “running interference in some instances for wrongdoers in the public sector”.
The Parliament, stressed Rowley, should be in charge of the country’s management operations.
He also criticised Government ministers for abusing State resources with respect to travel.
Rowley said he raised concerns and questions about a vehicle that was damaged by a Government member, and instead of holding “miscreants’’ accountable, the Government changed the system to allow Government ministers to drive ministry vehicles.
“They driving Government vehicles, Government gas, Government tyres, they not paying insurance... using an asset that is not part of their emolument package, that is open to the Cabinet and maybe that is why they could see it fit to maintaining the status quo.
“You go up to the panyard in the night, minister of Government with a Government vehicle jumping out driving with some associate in a ‘pom pom’ shorts... what does that have to do with Government business?” Rowley added.