OPPOSITION Leader Dr Keith Rowley has attempted to justify why Members of Parliament should receive an increase in salary and become full-time members of the Parliament.
And he claimed that the Parliament has failed to function as the supervisory body of the executive.
Rowley was speaking at Canaan Presbyterian Primary School, San Fernando on Monday night, as part of his campaign to retain the post of political leader in the People’s National Movement’s (PNM) internal election on May 18.
Rowley has written to President Anthony Carmona asking, in accordance with the powers conferred on his office by virtue of Section 140, that the President immediately request the Salaries Review Commission (SRC) undertake this urgent review of the salaries and other terms of office of non-executive MPs in time for the July/August implementation of the revised Standing Orders of the House of Representatives.
Non-executive MPs include Opposition members and Government backbenchers.
The last SRC Report, which was accepted by the Cabinet several weeks ago, recommended an increase in monthly salaries for non-executive MPs from $14,000 to $17,000 and for ministers from $33,000 to $41,000 for the period 2011-2014.
However, Rowley noted that if parliamentarians were properly paid, a prime minister would not have to appoint all members to ministries.
And MPs, he said, would not have to seek employment elsewhere.
“Their prime role and responsibility and their primary income would come to them by virtue of being a Member of Parliament, which would separate them from the Cabinet. Then the parliamentarians will now hold Cabinet accountable for expenditure being wasted and stolen.”
Rowley said the Government does not do a good job of examining and reporting on itself, especially if it is a bad report.
“When you have a situation where you have some kind of coalition arrangement, like we have now, a loose arrangement where you have people from different political persuasions, what happens is that the Members of Parliament all want to be ministers. The reason being, if you are not a minister you don’t get paid properly,” he said.
And since most parliamentarians were roped into the present Cabinet, he said, there was no freedom in the House of Representatives to supervise, serve on committees, or hold the Government to account.
“What you are hearing about is a small part of the general mismanagement and what is happening is that huge money is being allocated, spent, wasted and stolen and there is no proper arrangement in Parliament to hold people to account because the Parliament is not functioning as the supervisory body of the executive.”
Rowley said the parliamentary committees to oversee expenditure were populated by ministers and opposition members.
“The ministers are required to report on themselves and are usually too busy to come to committee meetings and when they come they are not coming with an open mind. They are coming to defend themselves and are largely running interference between the Opposition and the public servant, so you don’t get to find out what is going on in the State enterprises.
“Wrongdoing is buried and protected by the Government because the Government don’t want to be exposed. And all the money is being wasted or stolen and there is nothing in place to change that,” he said.
Rowley estimated that 60 per cent of Government expenditure was wasted or stolen.
He said hundreds of people working in State enterprises were earning twice as much as a Member of Parliament.
He said the SRC needed to take into account that the country needs full-time parliamentarians who are paid accordingly.
Rowley said he supported the decision to reduce the speaking time of members of the House of Representatives from 75 minutes to 45 minutes. But he was against the addition of seven new committees to the Parliament.
“We have five committees in Parliament and they have problems functioning. The Parliament is limping along with five committees, you don’t have enough full-time members to serve us. The new arrangements have added seven more committees. Is it that there is some conspiracy to grind Parliament to a halt? Experience shows that the current arrangement cannot have five functioning effective standing committees and we have consented to put seven more with the same part-time people and same Cabinet,” he said.
Rowley said Trinidad and Tobago’s Parliament cannot function by meeting once a week.
“You don’t tell me that you don’t want to spend an extra few dollars to ensure that your parliamentarians are available in the Parliament...I raised this issue because I am not afraid of the negative comments that come from the ill-informed about not paying parliamentarians. I raise it because the solution to the current problems is to have a number of parliamentarians available in Parliament to meet more than one day a week and to spend time in Parliament examining your account.”
A pay increase, Rowley said, would mean that parliamentarians are available to the Parliament to be effective watchdogs of the Cabinet.
Rowley said he also intends to put on the Parliament record this Government’s action on the controversial Beetham Wastewater Recycling Plant.
He questioned why the initial 16 contractors interested in the project were reduced to two.
And why a contractor bidding $500 million less was not selected for the job.
Rowley said should he become prime minister, matters affecting the Parliament would be addressed. He said his Cabinet would be no larger than 17 or 18 members.