Sun | Feb 16, 2020

Jaevion Nelson | Why are constituents so dependent on MPs?

Published:Monday | January 20, 2020 | 12:21 AM

Parliamentarians should get better compensation so they can adequately take care of themselves and family, not their constituents’ welfare needs.

Save for the poor representatives and those who warm bench for an opportunity to contribute to debates by heckling, I agree wholeheartedly with Bobby Pickersgill that “Parliamentarians deserve better”, but I don’t know if now is the best time for such a debate.

If we are honest, $300,000 per month as pay for our legislators is chicken feed, especially for those who give up far better income to be representatives of the people. I know it is off-putting to see politicians finally uniting on an issue that will only be to their benefit, but we shouldn’t chastise them for speaking out about the need for a remuneration package that is more commensurate with the tremendous work they are expected to do.

The challenge our legislators face is that, for so long, they have been preaching to civil servants (when they don’t form government) fi ban dem belly an work wid wat dem a get, cuz the country cannot afford to pay them what they truly deserve.

Therefore, our public-sector workers, despite their qualifications, experience and duties, are not paid properly and they have the same challenges meeting their basic and leisure needs as those expressed by our politicians in recent time.

As mentioned earlier, I do believe politicians should be paid more, but the timing of this discussion is very off. Having had someone in my family who was a parliamentarian, I am acutely aware of how expensive and difficult it can be on a parliamentarian and their family, especially for those who do not have other sources of income.

Notwithstanding, a more urgent discussion, I think, is the support or the budgetary allocation to ensure effective representation as parliamentarians and management of constituency. As I have previously said in this paper, they barely get anything to staff and run a proper office that would support their constituency and legislative work, and it is partly why so many of them are doing a shoddy job.

It’s really uncanny that politicians are complaining about how much it cost them to do their job, but won’t ask about the requisite support to run their office instead. Who is there to help them work on policy and legislation to make proposals to address these welfare issues they’re talking about that they have to give people money for? Who is there in their office to ensure they understand the bills coming before the Parliament?

Last week, I tuned in to an interesting discussion on Nationwide News Network with Kalilah Reynolds, Abka Fitz Henley, Dayton Campbell, and Ronnie Thwaites. A number of challenges were identified by the latter two but, strangely, the call wasn’t to improve what the State is doing. The conversation on the need for a salary increase for parliamentarians focused largely on the tremendous welfare needs of constituents, and there is yet no acknowledgment of the reasons people are so desperately needy, on how the State has failed its people.

The Constituency Development Fund (CDF) was mentioned, as well as whether or not the allocation should be raised given these concerns. But I don’t think the CDF should be increased to allow parliamentarians to be able to provide constituents with welfare assistance. That is not the solution. We already have an entire ministry with agencies and programmes to deal with the welfare needs of constituents.

COORDINATION NEEDED

We also don’t need additional social welfare programmes. What we need is coordination. The social protection programmes are all over the place in every ministry, department and agency, and though there is a Social Protection Policy, the ministry with responsibility for this does not have control over the however many such programmes there are.

Salary increase for members of parliament (MPs) should be completely separated from the welfare needs of constituents. The rationale for an increase has to be different. If there is such tremendous need for welfare, the discussion should be why are constituents so dependent on MPs, what is happening to the social protection services of the State and how do we reduce dependency for welfare on the MP; not to increase salary to maintain this dependency.

As someone said on Twitter, “There is nothing that can be done about that in the near term without massive economic change to a more just society with tax policies that don’t favour the rich and economic policies that don’t focus on Harbour Street, but on poor people’s lives. So, nothing, nothing will happen.”

Jaevion Nelson is a human rights, social and economic justice advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com or tweet @jaevionn.