By Rajeewa Jayaweera –
The Prime Minister has recently spoken in Parliament of the need to substantially increase salaries of our legislators. He is of the view current salaries were grossly inadequate. The Prime Minister believes higher salaries will reduce corruption and attract better talent to the legislature.
As at today, an MP earns a salary of Rs 54,285. Allowances are paid based on Rs 1,000 for entertainment, Rs 3,500 for a chauffeur, Rs 2,000 for a mobile phone and Rs 500 for each time he or she attends parliamentary sittings. A reimbursement scheme of Rs 10,000 for their private staff is in force. Each legislator receives between 283 and 639 liters of diesel a month based of the distance between Colombo and each member’s constituency. The Tax Free vehicle permit currently valued at Rs 22 million based on a six year term of office, when sold would provide each legislator with an additional monthly income of Rs 305,555. Legislators are eligible for a state pension after serving a mere five years in Parliament. Food at highly subsidized rates are available for legislators at the Parliament Cafeteria.
Picture via Facebook – Foreign Correspondents’ Association of Sri Lanka
Theoretically, the Prime Minister’s view of higher salaries reducing corruption and attracting better talent has merit. It is a theory espoused by the former Prime Minister of Singapore, the late Lee Kuan Yew who believed in paying very high salaries to cabinet ministers, similar or higher to those of top end CEOs in the private sector, enabling them a high standard of living without resorting to tender bending and other corrupt practices.
However, the Prime Minister’s proposition, as is the case with most theories of our politicians looks at the issue from a narrow rather than a broader perspective.
Both in the state and private sectors, employment at the beginning of a career is based on educational qualifications to commensurate with the job position besides participation in extra circular activities. Such qualifications need be supported with work experience and at times, with post graduate qualifications as the individual progress in his or her career.
What would be the minimum educational qualifications and professional experience required in the state and private sectors today, for a job seeker to qualify to apply for a position entailing a remuneration package in excess of Rs 400,000 per month (this figure excludes Parliamentary sitting allowance of Rs 500 per day and contain minimum diesel allowance)?
How many of our current legislators, let alone a basic degree, have successfully completed GCE ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels? Of course, having a degree is not the sum total of it. During the Rajapaksa administration, one enlightened minister, a graduate and one time tuition master stated Rs 2,500 was sufficient for a family of four to lead a comfortable life for a month. On that basis, he and all his colleagues are grossly overpaid.
In a country where even an ordinary bus driver in the state bus service require minimum educational qualifications for employment, should not legislators possess minimum educational qualifications in order to qualify to contest in a parliamentary election?
Further, would it not be prudent for the Prime Minister to task a group of persons (certainly not another committee of legislators) with the preparation of a meaningful matrix of minimum education qualifications, Pay & Perks and a mechanism or formula for periodic review for COL adjustment for legislators, who have already exceeded the Rs 400,000 mark?
Last but not least, should not our legislators be subjected to an annual Performance Appraisal? No doubt, the best performance appraisal was during elections under the Westminster system. The current system enables entry and re-entry to many undesirables and rejects as we observed after 09 January 2015. Legislators are often found not attending parliament. Whereas state and private sector employees have a set number of days permitted to be away from work place with permission, legislators may stay away up to three months after which approval is necessary. When in attendance, some, including senior cabinet ministers have been found fast asleep in the chamber during proceedings including budget debates. Some rarely contribute to parliamentary proceedings. Contributions of some others are better suited in a farm for animals of the braying variety. Some are absent when important bills are being voted whereas a Yes or No vote should be mandatory.
The Prime Minister would be doing a favor to the nation by addressing the issue of legislator’s Pay & Perks not from a narrow perspective of improving their living standards but from a broader perspective of selecting the correct persons to contest thus giving the voter an opportunity to elect qualified and capable candidates and then tasking the successful candidates with development projects in their respective electorates with a suitable monitoring mechanism in place. In such a scenario, no sane person will object to remuneration packages of capable legislators.
In a lighter vein, the Prime Minister who feels “my wife’s salary is more than what I get”, under a revised scheme might be able to say ‘finally my salary is more than what my wife gets’!