By Sarath de Alwis –
When Pay-packets of Parliamentarians became a news headline, the uproar was immediate, disgust vast and anger boundless.
The speaker has said that no final decision has been reached on the matter. The proposal is for an upward revision of what we pay the elected representatives in the sovereign, august temple of our democracy, which is subject to running repairs since 2015 by a government that promised good governance.
The key phrase is ‘no final decision’. That means the issue is pending, possible and probable.
The speaker’s statement indicates that the subject is very much under discussion and consideration. So, it is safe to presume that the published news item of a possible pay hike for parliamentarians was a trial balloon to gauge public opinion or to be precise to measure the outrage and see if they can get away with the heist.
The adage ‘pay peanuts and get monkeys’ comes to mind. But let us not go there just yet. This Sunday let us approach the issue from a different angle.
Monkeys don’t decide the quantity of peanuts. Monkeys are not accorded the privilege of enhancing the protein of the monkey meal with added bananas.
The very thought of permitting the privilege for the sapiens in parliament, drives this writer ‘bananas’!
Returning to a more serious note, we should use this opportunity to seriously implement some reforms to make parliament a place of sanity offering a value proposition that justifies an adequate remuneration for those serving in parliament.
To begin with, members invading the well of the house during proceedings should be deprived of their allowances for attending sittings.
Any talk about salaries of members of parliament is bound to ignite an outcry and a hullabaloo of no mean proportion. Why? Here is why.
Firstly, the decision-making process is highly suspect. The ancient Roman poet and satirist famously suggested that wives cannot be trusted and keeping them under guard was no solution − because the guards cannot be trusted to protect them either. The system that is currently in place allows the beneficiaries to determine the benefits they are entitled to and worse, they themselves are the arbiters deciding the quality and quantity of such benefits.
Secondly, there is no agreement on the norms of the profession. Is politics a profession or a public service?
While all other professions have accepted criteria for entry and practice, the professional parliamentarian has none. Therefore, their logic of demanding comparable remuneration to those of other government officials such as judges, diplomats, doctors do not sound convincing. It is also funny that they studiously avoid comparing their salaries to those of teachers who are ipso facto required to have acquired at least the G.C.E ordinary level to teach in a primary school.
Thirdly, the proposal mooted is sudden and offers no convincing rationale. People have nothing but disdain for those in parliament. Let us face it. Irrespective of ideology, Policy and avowed principles, to the average citizenry, parliamentarians are a special breed. Most citizens would even go further and determine to be a parasitic breed in the biological categories of mosquitoes or leeches.
Who is a career politician? A career politician is one totally engaged with a political party doing whatever it takes to get, grab and gobble up power. They know no other means of livelihood.
Harold Laski considered politics as a science. In his book ‘Grammar of Politics’ Laski rejected the idea that politics was a profession. Much as I revere the memory of Professor Laski, I find it difficult to reconcile myself with the notion that those in our parliament are scientists.
I would prefer to agree with the novelist Robert Louis Stevenson who observed that “Politics is perhaps the only profession for which no preparation is thought necessary”
George Bernard Shaw in his play Major Barbara was more explicit. “He knows nothing; and he thinks he knows everything. That points clearly to a political career.”
There are politicians who have built their lives solely on politics. They have built opulent mansions and setup thriving commercial enterprises since their foray in to politics. That unfortunately is the ground reality.
Maximilian Karl Emil Weber, who is better known to students of politics and sociology as Max Weber was German sociologist, philosopher, jurist, and political economist. His ideas have profoundly influenced social theory even to this day and no doubt will remain influential for many years in to the future.
His essay ‘Politics as Vocation’ is a seminal treatise about politics pursued by career politicians. He wrote it just after the first world war. In committing his thoughts on parliamentary politics that replaced the feudal order of the German Emperor he wrote “Not summer’s bloom lies ahead of us, but rather a polar night of icy darkness and hardness.”
Dear reader, ask yourself the question what do we see in Jeffrey Bawa’s desolate edifice in the waters of the Diyawanna lake in Kotte ? Is it not the equivalent of a polar night of icy darkness and hardness?
Is it not an icy heart of an economics tuition master in that cold place who told us that a family could comfortably live on Rs.2500 for a month?
Let us get back to Max Webber. He recognizedthe overarching influence of special interests in politics. Underneath the “philosophical differences among political parties” lay financial benefits to party members. “The management of politics through parties simply means management through interest groups.” Voters facilitate the special interests and major parties, because the typical voter “looks for the name of the notable familiar to him. He distrusts the man who is unknown to him”
On the business of governance and politics, Weber cut to the essence and core of politics. “The decisive means for politics is violence.” The state is a monopoly of what is considered the legitimate use of force. Therefore “he who lets himself in for politics, that is, for power and force as means, contracts with diabolical powers.”
On the question of morality in politics he was specific.
“Only he has a calling for politics who is sure that he shall not crumble when the world from his point of view is too stupid or too base for what he wants to offer. Only he who in the face of all this can say ‘In spite of all!’ has the calling for politics.”
He ended his essay with the statement that is particularly resonant today. “Only he has a calling for politics who is sure that he shall not crumble when the world from his point of view is too stupid or too base for what he wants to offer. Only he who in the face of all this can say ‘In spite of all!’ has the calling for politics.”
We should return to the core subject of pay packets of parliamentarians. If we are to pay parliamentarians for their services, it is only reasonable that their remuneration should be commensurate with what we get in return.
Voters and Citizens in general do not necessarily comprehend the political processes and its intricacies. But we do understand incompetence and disastrous outcomes of their actions.
We can sack the cook who spoils our soup. But we are stuck with this lot who demand better pay.
Our dissatisfaction and frustration is heightened by the abuse and excess they practice. We are revolted by the perks they presently enjoy.
We have a political system that is feeding on itself while we are forced to live with poor governance that day by day turns poorer and poorer government.
Now the Speaker has told us that they are yet to arrive at a final decision. Should we rejoice that their collective snouts are yet to be poked in to the trough?