MPs unite in call for better pay
MEMBERS of Parliament (MPs) on both sides of the House of Representatives teamed yesterday in a spirited revolt against their salaries, pension and constituency funding.
Neither Prime Minister Andrew Holness nor Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips was present during a question-and-answer session involving Minister of Finance and the Public Service Dr Nigel Clarke and Opposition MP Ronald Thwaites over pension arrangements for parliamentarians, which lit the fuse.
The discussion against the treatment of Jamaican parliamentarians in terms of their compensation and pension arrangements was led by seven-time MP for St Catherine North Western Robert Pickersgill, who blew the lid off the dispute in a lengthy speech which blasted the continued reluctance to give MPs more pay.
The Opposition MP, a lawyer, confessed that entering parliament in 1993 he did not consider the salary paid to the MPs until he learnt from legal colleagues that a single legal opinion could be twice an MP's annual salary.
“When I came here and heard the figure, I nearly died,” Pickersgill added.
“The time has come, in my opinion, Mr Speaker, for us to, as I said, take the bull by the horn and settle these long outstanding issues regarding emoluments, pension and health benefits for parliamentarians
He noted that the issue of MPs' salaries dated as far back as 1945, and that for 47 years now various commissions led by prominent Jamaicans had made recommendations to improve the salaries and pension coverage of parliamentarians without success.
According to him, the basic pay for the average Cabinet minister is some $5.6 million per year, which is some 40 per cent less than that paid to Cabinet ministers in Barbados. And the salary of the Barbadian prime minister is twice that of his Jamaican counterpart, despite the vast difference in populations.
He lamented that while civil servants, including nurses, teachers, and ancillary workers, are all looked after by the unions and professional associations which represent them, there was no organisation that looks after the interest of MPs.
“Sadly, Mr Speaker, no one. We need a union. Consequently, I am proposing that a negotiating committee consisting of the speaker, the leader of Government business and his deputy, and the leader of Opposition business and his deputy, be established to negotiate with the minister of finance on issues of welfare for MPs. We need a union,” Pickersgill said to loud applause from his colleagues.
“Listen man, when have we been called as a Parliament to discuss our welfare. Never,” he argued.
He also claimed that there was no credible reason the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) annual budget per MP could not be increased to $40 million per annum to help them address problems within their constituencies.
“Parliamentarians deserve better. It is time to do what is right. Nonetheless, I still say, and I am serious about it, I am not joking, our union leader must be the prime minister, and our general secretary must be the minister of finance, and we will find a way for you to dovetail it into the committee that I just suggested. We have to meet now. We have to talk,” he told the House.
“Like our new member from Portland said…beautiful speaking can't increase parliamentarians' salaries. Is action a go do that, not bag a mouth. As the saying goes, hope has no expiry date, but we must not die in Constant Spring. I hope you understand what I mean. If you don't confront, you cannot conquer, and the time has come now for us to confront,” Pickersgill said.
“We, as parliamentarians, on both sides, have become hostages to our own self-contempt. It is time to stop that. No other public servant takes a loss as a result of his or her public service,” Thwaites added.
“It is unjust for us to treat ourselves this way, and it is unjust for the public to expect that the persons who serve here at great sacrifice should be made paupers,” Thwaites said.
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