Parliamentary committee wants bipartisan talks on salaries for public servants
Syranno Baines, Gleaner Writer
Members of the Human Resources and Social Development Committee of Parliament want a bipartisan discussion on the issue of salaries for public servants, politicians in particular.
The issue was raised as members discussed the remuneration of judges at Gordon House on Wednesday, during the committee's first meeting in more than a year.
Chairman Ronald Thwaites said in its earlier days, the committee had been approached on several occasions to ease the poverty of retired members on both sides of the House.
“Two Deputy Prime Ministers from either side of this House who had chronic health issues have had to be assisted from the public purse because of the insufficient arrangements made for us. I believe that is something that is incumbent on us at this time to address,” Thwaites said.
“It is undignified for that to happen and it has happened so many times,” he added.
Member of Parliament (MP) for Manchester South Michael Stewart agreed with Thwaites, stating that the issue cannot be overemphasised.
“We have seen where many of our public servants who have served this nation have ended up on the ‘begging bench’ so to speak. So, I, as a young parliamentarian, would really support this and ask that others really come on board and take a look at it if we’re going to be moving forward in rescuing ourselves,” he reasoned.
St Andrew South West MP Dr Angela Brown Burke concurred with Thwaites and Stewart, saying the discourse should not be confined to politicians but public servants in general.
Noting that the issue of salaries for public servants has always been a sensitive one, committee member Dr Fenton Ferguson said he was not advocating for politicians to get a pay raise but was putting it on the table that the conversation must take place.
“It is a courageous attempt to deal with a difficult matter. So, we have to make up our minds whether we are willing to have this kind of discussion. There are live examples of what has happened to public servants who would have served their country for years and in the end because we fail to even speak about these issues we keep coming to parliament and just play around with it rather than to speak to it, even if at the end to say it is deserving but can’t happen at this time,” he said.
“I’ve had the opportunity of seeing what has happened to many of our politicians. They go off and successive governments bring them back as little consultants, doing little or nothing in some instance, in order to keep them alive. We have to do better,” he charged.
First-time MP Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn agreed with Ferguson, insisting that the conversation must be had.
“I think people think we’re making an enormous amount of money and most of us have a second job if you want to call it that. We do something other than being a parliamentarian because we have to put food on the table. The money that we do get is not enough. For persons who are possibly here second term, third term, yes there is a pension but for persons who come and don’t get re-elected there’s nothing and you have to fall back on whatever job you had,” she said.
Thwaites later indicated that he would be tabling a private members’ motion in parliament after the Christmas work to stimulate the discourse.
He further told The Gleaner that going forward the committee would be seeking to meet at least once per month, with the agenda focused broadly on the family structure and more particularly on the issue of abortion.