Forgoing Salaries | Daily News

Forgoing Salaries

According to a news item quoting Media Minister Dr. Bandula Gunawardena, all Cabinet Ministers have agreed to forgo their monthly salaries for one year in the midst of the unprecedented economic crisis. According to the Minister, while the country’s annual income is Rs.4 Trillion, the expenditure amounts to Rs 9.6 Trillion- a shortfall of Rs. 2.4 Trillion in expenditure over income.

As one of the means of bridging this deficit the proposal made in Cabinet by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe for Ministers to forgo their salaries for one year was accepted by all Ministers. The call for Ministers and in fact all Parliamentarians to take pay cuts during times of economic crisis and other emergencies have been made time and again. This is perhaps the first time that Ministers have expressly refused to draw their salaries and for this the public, would be a happy lot.

At the same time they would not be in an almighty hurry to applaud the move. The salary itself of a Minister is not all that much to rave above about, (no mention is made of allowances). It is all too well known that Ministers and MPs have other avenues of income more lucrative that will make their salaries seem a mere drop in the bucket. Those who possessed only a push cycle when they first entered Parliament later came to own pajeros, prados and luxury mansions. This is true even among the current crop of Ministers. Therefore there is no cause for anyone going overboard in praising their move to forgo their salaries. There are the tenders, the contracts and a multitude of other means by which fortunes are made. One cannot forget that previous governments issued liquor licenses to Ministers and MPs, not to mention the bounties reaped from favours granted to businessmen and the commissions from State undertakings. Besides, no aspirant to Parliament would go to the extent of throwing money for electioneering, especially canvassing in all the electorates in a district under the PR system, in the quest to get elected unless there are rich rewards to be reaped. There is also the question of the quid pro quo for businessmen and racketeers who fund such campaigns. This will not be paid out of the pockets of the candidate concerned but through other means which the latter too stands to benefit handsomely.

There are other advantages such as free foreign travel and the education of children abroad. Why, there are even employment opportunities for spouses, sons and daughters and other kith and kin as secretaries, spokespersons of the minister concerned, all within the family and paid for by the taxpayer. They are not going to lose much as a result. At least one former State minister was frank enough to say that he could not part with his salary under any circumstances since he was paying installments on a huge bank loan and was solely dependent on his spouse’s earnings to exist- whatever the merits of the claim. Even the Rathu Sahodarayas continue to draw their MPs’ salaries though claims are made that their collective earnings are credited to a ‘pool’ to be spent on party activities. There is no proof though to back this claim and no document produced all the years they were in Parliament. The question arises as to how they and their families exist? They are all full time MPs not engaged in any other profession. They certainly cannot live on air.

As the saying goes there is more than one way to shoe a horse. Besides, there are the kith and kin to take over once the papas and mamas call it a day. Hence, the wait without a salary is worth the while especially when the going is good in other ways. It was President JRJ who insisted that his Ministers should be paid a big salary to prevent them from engaging in corruption. However, as is all too well known, this did not prevent his Ministers from getting on the gravy train. There were accusations made of foreign mansions and apple orchards at the time. Nothing much has changed since then. If at all the opportunities have increased several fold making being an MP a lucrative profession for which some even commit murder to enter Parliament. Withholding from drawing one’s salary is not going to convince anyone about the bona-fides of Ministers. Only their periodical declaration of assets will satisfy the public in drawing conclusions.

This is not to say that all Ministers/MPs can be tarred with the same brush. There are those who are above board and in fact had declared their assets. But, alas, they are in a minority. This is why there is a rallying call for a system change and for the educated, intelligent and men and women of social standing to occupy the Seats of Parliament. Until such time the prospects of becoming a developed and progressive nation are dim indeed.


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