This past week, Julian Robinson, the parliamentary representative for South East St Andrew and the junior minister for energy and technology, marked his first year as an MP by circulating a report of the things he has done in the constituency since his election.
We do not know what proportion of Mr Robinson's constituents, to whom the document is addressed, has seen the report, which was circulated to journalists and posted on the MP's website. Access to the Internet is likely to be an issue for many of those constituents. We, nonetheless, welcome the effort.
Mr Robinson, of course, is not the first of the current lot of MPs to issue such a report on his activities. For a period after his election to the Central Manchester seat in 2007, Peter Bunting published quarterly reviews in newspapers. He now posts them on his constituency website.
Unfortunately, the actions of Mr Robinson and Mr Bunting are not the norm among parliamentarians. Very few have structured, documentary systems for reporting to their constituents, outside of party meetings, and only a handful maintain websites dedicated to their constituencies.
There is little opportunity, therefore, for constituents, and other interested persons and stakeholders in the matter of good governance, to review and assess an MP's actions and outcomes against his/her promised deliverables.
So, while we do not necessarily agree with a fair bit of what Mr Robinson spent his first year doing - for instance his crowing about getting his hands greasy in the pork fat called the Constituency Development Fund (CDF), albeit primarily for the cause of education - we recommend his and Mr Bunting's approach to other parliamentarians (except that it should be mandatory). Which brings us to the fundamental matter of the roles of MPs and how they should be compensated.
We are opposed to the notion of the MP as benevolent and direct deliverer of patronage, which has long been institutionalised in Jamaica - and entrenched via troughs such as the CDF and its predecessor, the Social and Economic Support Programme, over which politicians have easy access, despite the chimera of civil-service oversight. This merging of the roles of legislator, constituency advocate and bureaucrat, with its resultant diminished process of accountability, heightens the opportunity for public corruption or the perception thereof. MPs must craft legislation, agitate on behalf of their constituencies, lobby the political executive for policies favourable to their causes, and then allow, based on the outcome, the public bureaucracy to get on with the job of project implementation and management.
THE TEMPTATION FOR CORRUPTION
Obviously, it is difficult, if not impossible, to legislate morality. But the temptation for corruption, we feel, is lessened if persons, including politicians, are reasonably compensated. There is no gainsaying that Jamaica's MPs are badly paid, especially in the context of what is expected of them and their access to the management of public resources.
We believe, as we have suggested before, that the number of MPs should be sharply reduced and their salaries raised closer to what is realistic and affordable, but linked to specific performance targets such as set out in the 2003 Clarke report. In that event, reports such as Mr Robinson's and Mr Bunting's would be a requirement of all MPs, only that the reporting would have to be more robust.
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