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Lalla: MP car benefits abused

By Andre Bagoo Monday, February 17 2014

FORMER member of the Salaries Review Commission (SRC) and MP Kenneth Lalla SC yesterday said MP car benefits have been abused over the years with MP s buying cars and selling at full price in order to make a profit.

Lalla was speaking in response to a report of a row breaking out between the SRC and MPs over the SRC’s latest pay recommendations which have called for MPs duty/exemptions to be abolished and which have opted not to adjust MPs pay to reflect the pay of full-time officials.

At the same time, Lalla, a former chairman of the Public Service Commission and a constitutional law expert, said the laws governing the SRC need to be clarified in order to state more definitively the intervals at which reviews of the pay of public officials should take place.

He said the SRC’s reports are not binding on the State.

In relation to car exemptions, Lalla said, “I think the system is abused. You hear of instances where MPs buy personal cars at the discounted prices then sell at full price and do this over and over. Plus, some of them are entitled to use of State cars with drivers.”

However, Lalla said he did not agree with the SRC that the car duty/exemptions enjoyed by Mps ought to be completely stripped. Instead, he said, the practice ought to be subject to tighter regulations.

“For instance, they should limit car purchases, perhaps to maybe one car every three years or some other interval,” Lalla said.

Lalla stated the latest developments which have seen MPs resorting to taking matters into their own hands by convening a Parliament committee to advise on pay and allowances for MPs is problematic as it represents a case of “himself unto himself”.

On Friday, the First Report of the House Committee of the House of Representatives was tabled. The report, signed by Government and Opposition MPs, lashed out at the SRC for failing to recommend even higher increases in MP s pay and for stripping MPs of car duty/tax exemptions. In the report, MPs accused the SRC of “complete discourtesy”, said its latest report – its 98th Report – was “unjust” and demonstrated that the SRC was “entirely ignorant” of the role and function of parliamentarians.

With intervals between reports of the SRC long and unpredictable, the House Committee recommended that “interim/revised” proposals be put forward, rejecting the SRC’s stripping of car benefits and called for their pay to be commensurate with full-time work. The House Committee also recommended that the pay of the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Opposition Leader be increased to match the level of a minister. The House Committee is a committee under the Standing Orders which advises the Speaker.

Lalla said the law needs to be changed, because now there is a problematic situation where MPs are determining their own pay terms, and not an independent body. He also noted the Speaker’s committee is now recommending the Speaker’s pay be increased.

“It is not the ideal situation in my view as it illustrates the likely bias that people will have towards themselves in ensuring that they get what they want,” he said. “These commissions are set up to have some degree of impartiality.”

Lalla said this situation would not be possible if the SRC had clearly set out reporting intervals and, perhaps, more absolute powers.

“I think there should be a specific time-frame within which salaries should be reviewed and it should not be at their own whim and fancy,” Lalla said. “One needs to look at the role and functions of the Salaries Review Commission, make it mandatory that they submit a report in a specific period of time. I agree that currently, the process does take a long time.” The lawyer said while there are now two salary reports, the SRC’s report is not binding on the State.

“I don’t think their power is absolute. They are a recommending body, unlike the Public Service Commission which has a quasi-judicial standing. This is why the House Committee has sat. They are not bound by the SRC’s report,” he said. “Parliament has its own powers and those powers are supreme.”

Lalla said if MP s were so dissatisfied with their pay levels, they should perhaps look at other options.

“If I had a job and I wanted more salary because if I am dissatisfied with the current salary then I should quit the job,” Lalla said. “In that kind of situation, you look for another job. But these people don’t want another job, they sit there, all you have to do is resign and find another job. Not everybody goes into these things for benevolent reasons. The job comes will all sorts of perks.”

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