That MP pay hike | Daily News

That MP pay hike

All citizens of this country, particularly those finding it difficult to make ends meet, would applaud President Maithripala Sirisena for firmly putting his foot down on plans to increase the salaries of all MPs. Reviving a proposal made as far back as 2006 that MPs’ salaries should be brought on par with that of judges of the higher courts it had been suggested that an MP’s salary be raised by a staggering 215 percent. This is in keeping with the recent pay hike granted to members of the judiciary. The media went to town with the story, which, no doubt, would have raised the hackles of the general public not only at the enormity of the proposed increase but also the callousness displayed by our people’s representatives in granting themselves ANY salary increase at a time the people were reeling under the massive cost of living burden.

This is more so given that the MPs’ perks, and other allowances had been on the ascent periodically. Their parliament attendance allowances were increased several fold recently (though they were elected by the voters for just that purpose - attend parliament) and each MP was given Rs. 100,000 to better serve the people in their electorates. MPs also enjoy heavily subsidized meals of their choice (with one former fair member even insisting on including Australian Golden Syrup in the parliament breakfast menu). There is also the all paid for foreign junkets with spouses and progeny and the little matter of duty free vehicle permits, which, according to a lawsuit filed by civil activist lawyer Nagananda Kodithuwakku, nearly 90 of the MPs have sold to third parties for profit running into several millions of rupees each.

Not only that, even the Provincial Councillors and Local Government members too, it was reported, were planning to follow suit and the enormity of the financial burden on the public could be gauged by the fact that we now have an additional 10,000 LG Councillors, in terms of the newly enacted Local Government Elections law, making it carnival time for all our erstwhile people’s representatives.

Had the proposal gone through, the siblings and progeny of sitting members of parliament, which form the bulk of the Provincial Council membership, too, would be beneficiaries of the 215% pay hike since they, no doubt, are next in line to enter parliament once their papas or mamas hang up their boots, which would be a gross injustice on the superiorly educated public servant who toil for a pittance.

Several MPs from both sides of the political divide have overtly expressed their opposition to the proposed pay hike although there had been no opposition at the party leaders’ meeting to this, according to reports. Hence, it is most apt that the President has in unequivocal terms put the lid on the whole issue. Speaking at an event in Polonnaruwa, the President said he would not approve any increase in the salary of Members of Parliament. The President said he would not permit a salary increase of MPs by even 5 cents. satha pahakinwath vedikaranna denne ne. Even the Speaker’s office has issued a statement, in response to the reports, that no final decision has been taken on the matter.

Be that as it may, it was late President J.R. Jayewardene who wanted MPs’ salaries increased so that this may keep them out of corruption’s way. However, the salary increase did not stop Ministers and MPs feathering their nests by other means. Politicians who entered parliament with modest means soon ended up leading super-luxury lives, even educating their children abroad. The situation has not changed since. If at all, the opportunities presented today are much more than during the time of JRJ. Hence the blood sport that politics has descended to today, with politicians even resorting to murder to enter Parliament.

Most would argue that our peoples’ representatives don’t deserve even their present salaries. Parliament is more often than not without a quorum and MPs are found in deep snoozes during important debates. The language used by our MPs too leaves much to be desired and very often we find MPs who place questions in the Order Paper affecting their constituents not present in the House during question time. They also run amok in Parliament, running away with the Mace and engage in fisticuffs in the Well of the House.

In other countries MPs take voluntary pay cuts during times of crisis and themselves resort to tightening their belts before requesting the public to do so. Even in this country there were politicians, in the immediate post Independence era, who were the epitomes of propriety and did not live on the fat of the land like some of the present day politicians who do not hesitate to ladle themselves with the gravy, given the slightest opportunity.

President Sirisena should walk the talk and ensure that MPs’ salaries remain at the present level during the course of his Presidency. If at all, he should persuade them to let off some of their privileges and monetary rewards, until the country stabilizes economically. This will set a precedent for parliaments after this one. 


 

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