|‘Complete disrespect, ignorance’ |
By Andre Bagoo Sunday, February 16 2014
A ROW between the Salaries Review Commission (SRC) — the constitutional body in charge of recommending pay levels for public officials — and both Government and Opposition members of the House of Representatives appears to have broken out over levels of pay and allowances being recommended by the SRC.
In particular, MPs have taken umbrage over a proposal by the SRC, in its latest report recommending pay changes, that they be stripped of current benefits relating to vehicles.
Further, MPs have expressed concern over the SRC’s reluctance to raise their pay to a level equivalent to full-time officials. They have also made reference to the fact that under the SRC’s latest proposals, the Chief Justice of the country and judges would get more money than the Prime Minister and Ministers.
The row resulted in the convening of the rarely functional House Committee of the Parliament in order to allow MP s the opportunity to draw up their own proposals for salaries increases, independent of the SRC, the body charged with the mandate of recommending salary changes to Cabinet. The House Committee, under the Standing Orders of the Parliament, is in charge of, “advising the Speaker on all matters connected with the comfort and convenience of Members of the House”.
In contrast, the SRC’s latest report — the 98th Report, dated 2013 — is yet to be tabled in Parliament and passed.
Instead, the First Report of the House Committee of the House of Representatives, dated January 14, was last Friday tabled. That report contains passages critical of the SRC’s report, accusing the SRC of ignorance, disrespect and of not conducting basic checks before drawing up its report.
“The fact that the body responsible for recommending terms and conditions for Members of Parliament is obviously entirely ignorant about the Legislature today — its role, responsibilities, duties and operations — was troubling to the House Committee,” the report, signed by three Government and two Opposition MPs, reads. “Members maintain that the Commission is obligated to make concerted efforts to fully investigate prior to reporting and to present sound analysis in support of its conclusions. The Committee is satisfied that the Commission had ample opportunity to do so over the years. Consequently, there was agreement that the Commission’s failure to sufficiently investigate prior to reporting on sensitive and critical parliamentary offices, coupled with its repeated disregard of the material presented to it by the legislature over the years, was nothing short of complete discourtesy to the legislative arm of the State.”
The House Committee comprises: Government Whip Dr Roodal Moonilal; Deputy Speaker Nela Khan; Tobago East MP Vernella Toppin; and the PNM’s Diego Martin North-East MP Colm Imbert and Laventille West MP Nileung Hypolite. The Committee held only two meetings: one on December 16, 2013; another on January 10, 2014.
The Committee noted the SRC has opted to defer further changes in pay levels until conclusion of a job evaluation exercise.
However, the Committee members state, “The Committee...proposes that pending the conclusion of the job evaluation exercise yet to be undertaken by the Commission, the recommended remuneration for Members of Parliament should include...interim/revised arrangements.”
In particular, the Committee recommended that: the work of an elected MP “is of a full time nature and that remuneration arrangements must reflect this fact”.
The Committee also said, “it is unjust to require Parliamentarians to forego entitlements that they currently enjoyed. The Committee therefore recommends the outright rejection of the proposal to place limits on the current entitlement of Parliamentarians to duty/tax exemptions for their purchase of a motor vehicle for their official use.”
The Committee made an implicit swipe at the SRC’s reduction of allowances and refusal to increase pay levels by a larger margin. In its report tabled Friday, it compared the annual after tax income levels of the three main branches of the State: the Executive, Judicial and Legislature.
“A perusal of this data clearly shows that the remuneration of the Legislature is undoubtedly based on the misconception that Trinidad and Tobago does not have a full-time Legislative Branch,” the Committee states testily. “Any proposal that a MP is able to supplement his parliamentary income by finances from another job, insofar as he is not required to devote his full time attention to his parliamentary duties, is regressive and incompatible with well-established benchmarks for modern democratic legislatures. Such a view is unrealistic. Indeed, a simple inquiry would have revealed that employers are reluctant to employ serving Parliamentarians due to anticipated high levels of absenteeism.”
The Committee continues, “while the level of compensation for our leaders should not be so low that it would make such public service too much of a sacrifice for worthy individuals.”
The members of the SRC are Edward Collier (chairman); Haseena Ali; Dr Marjorie Thorpe; and Gerard Pinard. It is likely that the House Committee’s report may be approved in Parliament under the Standing Orders, creating a situation of two separate salaries proposals: one under the Parliament’s Constitutional powers of self-regulation; another - unapproved - under a separate section of the Constitution which establishes the SRC.
WHAT IS THE SALARIES REVIEW COMMISSION?
141. (1) The Salaries Review Commission shall from time to time with the approval of the President review the salaries and other conditions of service of the President (and) the holders of offices.
(2) The report of the Salaries Review Commission concerning any review of salaries or other conditions of service, or both, shall be submitted to the President who shall forward a copy thereof to the Prime Minister for presentation to the Cabinet and for laying, as soon as possible thereafter, on the table of each House.
COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS OF EXISTING VS PROPOSED PAY
Current total annual SRC proposal
income after tax
Chief Justice 909,720 1,193,680
Justice of Appeal 762,720 1,039,960
Puisne Judge 717,120 983,320
Prime Minister 617,100 749,480
Attorney General 557,550 673,220
Cabinet Members 526,500 636,230
Non-Cabinet Members 475,200 572,420
Parliamentary Secretary 316,350 384,720
President of the Senate 367,500 447,270
Speaker of the House 372,300 453,030
Leader of the Opposition 395,100 481,110
Deputy Speaker 197,700 240,000
Members of the House 191,400 232,170
Vice President 196,500 237,840
Members of Senate 158,700 190,860