By Lynford Simpson, News Editor
Members of Parliament gather just moments after the adjournment of yesterday's sitting of the House of Representatives. From left are: Fitz Jackson, Clive Mullings, Everald Warmington, Paul Robertson, Edmund Bartlett and Donald Buchanan. - Rudolph Brown/Staff Photographer
THE OLIVER Clarke-chaired Parliamentary Salaries Review Committee has recommended that there should be no increase in the current base pay for Members of Parliament.
At the same time, the five-member committee said that it "does not feel that Parliamentarians are overpaid."
The committee recommended that Senators, who now receive a minimal allowance, be paid a taxable honorarium based on attendance which could total $500,000 per annum.
It is also proposed that the Leader of the Opposition be compensated at the same level as a Cabinet Minister, be paid a special allowance of $500,000 and be given an additional member of staff for his office.
Prime Minister P.J. Patterson has established a 10-member bipartisan committee to examine the 40 recommendations in the 60-page report which was tabled in the House yesterday.
The committee, chaired by Dr. Omar Davies, the Minister of Finance and Planning, is to report to Parliament with a view to facilitating a debate before the end of the calendar year.
The Salaries Committee estimated that the net recurrent cost of implementing its recommendations would be in the region of $68 million per annum. This would be after "substantial savings" that would arise from the proposed change to the pension scheme, said Mr. Clarke, the committee chairman.
Mr. Clarke, who is also chairman and managing director of The Gleaner Company Ltd., explained that such savings would not be immediate, as the contributory pension scheme being proposed would only apply to new parliamentarians.
The committee recommended the construction of a new Parliament building due to the inadequacy of the current structure and that Government should provide and furnish a constituency office for each MP.
"The facilities that are available in Parliament are totally unacceptable and it is essential for the future of the country that a new Parliament building be built," emphasised Mr. Clarke in defence of the committee's recommendation that a new building be constructed.
"It is impossible to believe that the legislature of the country can conceivably operate in such atrocious facilities," he added.
He said the committee was of the view that Parliament was substantially under-funded. "In a democracy you are meant to have a balance between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. Here the executive has massive resources at its command through the various ministries and the other two arms of Government appear to be at a disadvantage," said the committee chairman.
The committee recommended that some of the incremental costs of implementing the recommendations could come from utilising some of the funds allocated to the Social and Economic Support Programme (SESP) an amount of around $3 million allocated to each MP. This was the one recommendation that did not sit well with the MPs who have already voiced their disapproval.
The committee was mandated by the Prime Minister in February to conduct a review of the salaries paid to parliamentarians and make recommendations. This, after controversy broke out earlier this year following initial reports that MPs had been given a huge pay increase, pushing their salary from just over $1 million to $2 million per annum.
However, the storm of criticism which followed the announcement in February led the Prime Minister to put a freeze on further increases to MPs, pending the findings of the review committee.
Mr. Patterson, in responding to the committee's recommendations, said: "Convincing reasons have been put forward by the group in respect of each and every recommendation. We in Parliament need to settle a process and a time-frame which will allow for implementation in both the immediate and medium term.
"We will have to take steps, if we accept that recommendation, to constitute a Permanent Salaries Review Board which will make recommendations on periodic increases and no longer on the basis of any linkage with the salaries of Permanent Secretaries."
Other major recommendations are that parliamentarians should be required to file two annual reports - a transparency and an accountability report. Those who file both would see their salary adjusted by six per cent per annum.
"The tabling of reports by parliamentarians should go a long way in increasing accountability and perhaps serve to dispel the notion that Members of Parliament are not deserving of the emoluments that they receive," Mr. Patterson said.
Mr. Clarke said: "I share the hope of the review committee that consideration and timely action on this report will facilitate the process of rebuilding confidence in the political system by allowing parliamentarians to function more effectively."