Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley remains convinced that the two controversial bills— the Judges Salaries and Pensions Bill and the Retiring Allowances (Legislative) bill — are warranted.
“I am not surprised at some of the comments. I expected that. Parliamentarian emoluments is never a popular issue,” he said yesterday. He stressed that MPs’ pensions needed to be upgraded, pointing out that elected MPs (not Senators) pay six per cent of their salaries to a pension plan which is outdated.
Rowley said he wrote to the President about the failure of the Salaries Review Commission (SRC) to treat with the salaries and other terms of members of Parliament and the President has not responded.
“Because the SRC is not prepared to pay members of Parliament, Prime Ministers have been giving every member of Parliament (on their bench) a ministry, because that is the only time you get a decent salary. What this has done under this current administration has resulted in a proliferation of ministries and a huge Cabinet,” he said.
He said the SRC does not deal with pensions because it is “a legislative matter”.
He said the situation confronting Parliamentarians was that while you are working you are improperly paid, but on retirement one would get a decent pension, if the bill becomes law.
Rowley said he wrote to the President pointing out that the Parliament had passed new Standing Orders, which created seven new Committees. He said this means that members of Parliament who are not ministers would now be forced to serve in the Parliament full time. “But the SRC has refused to take that into account, and after eight years of no increases, they say for the third time that they have to do a job evaluation. Now we consider that to be an insult. Imagine the SRC approves a salary for parliamentarians ($17,000 for members of the House of Representatives without ministerial portfolio and $13,000 for members of the Senate), that is lower that the housing allowance of a judge (which is $24,000 tax free),” he said.
Rowley said Government put two additional things in place- one being the termination benefit for resettlement. “That was the Government’s position. That was not our position. I commented that I found that it was quite generous,” he said.
The other new feature was the (addition of) allowances (in the calculation of pension benefits). This was something which the judges insisted they must have, he said. “But if you are giving the judges (that benefit), you have to give the MPs too. How could you give judges and not MPs?,” he asked. Rowley said he made the point during the debate on the bill that it was “strange” that judicial contact allowance ($118,000 annually) was being added to the calculation of judges’ pensions. He said if such office holders (MPs and judges) were being paid proper salaries, the pension benefits would not have had to include allowances.