Tyrone Reid, Senior Staff Reporter
Politicians in Jamaica are among the worst paid in the region, but that could be a reflection of their performance. Jamaica is also among the worst-performing economies regionally with little fiscal space to pay the politicians more - even if they deserve it.
A comparative study conducted by the Integrity Commission in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) last year showed Jamaica near the bottom in terms of remuneration to political representatives and the average income of each citizen.
For public commentator and Gleaner columnist Martin Henry, the TCI study was thoroughly executed and comprehensive.
According to Henry, the study provides food for thought, parti-cularly as it relates to the proposed cutting of the salaries paid to some parliamentarians in the group of islands.
"I believe that in the same context, and applying the same set of principles, the corresponding salaries in Jamaica, justifiably, should be increased," Henry told The Sunday Gleaner.
"A better alignment between the value of executive and the value of the legislative functions should also be done through narrowing the gap between ministerial compensation and parliamentary compensation," argued Henry.
He said the people of Jamaica, like the people of the TCI, have to ask and answer that fundamental question set out in the report: What price are we prepared to pay for good governance?
In the same vein, Professor Trevor Munroe, executive director of anti-corruption lobby National Integrity Action, argued that it is too simplistic to declare that Jamaican politicians should not be paid more because of the poor performance of the economy.
Munroe noted that the complexity of the matter is reflected in the fact that over the last 40 years, Jamaica has seen at least four reports examining the payment plan for politicians.
"There was the Ashenheim Report in 1973, the Sasso Review in 1981, the Fletcher Review in 1989, and most comprehensively, the 101-page report of the Parliamentary Salaries Review Committee, chaired by Oliver Clarke, that was submitted in November 2003," said Munroe.
"The volume of the Clarke study reflects the complexity of the issue. We shouldn't oversimplify it nor do any other studies. We should implement the recommendations which are still applicable."
Munroe also argued that the private sector is not guiltless when it comes to Jamaica's poor economic performance.
"One of the reasons why our GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is so low is related to the underperformance of our government institutions, but also the private sector and the low levels of productivity.
"What I'm trying to avoid is a simplistic equation. Jamaica is a market-driven economy, and as a result, the Government must take part, but not the sole blame."
Of the eight regional states surveyed in the report, Jamaica was the largest and had, by far, the lowest per-capita income.
The country with the highest per-capita income was Bermuda, (US$69,080) while Jamaica's was stated at US$5,126.
In addition to Bermuda and Jamaica, the countries included in the study were Anguilla, Barbados, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Montserrat, and the TCI.
LOWEST PAID PM
Jamaica's prime minister is the lowest paid in the region when salaries and allowances are combined.
The highest paid head of government was the TCI's premier, who was taking home US$288,000 in salary and allowances, or more than three times the salary of Jamaica's prime minister.
However, the TCI Integrity Commission recommended a US$10,000 reduction in the basic salary of the premier.
According to the report, the pay package of Jamaica's leader of the opposition was third on a list of six countries for which figures were included.
The highest paid opposition leader is found in the Cayman Islands with a total pay package of US$198,166.
Cabinet ministers in Jamaica were ranked seventh of the eight territories compared, only above the cabinet ministers in Montserrat.
Jamaica's deputy prime minister post ranked fourth of six nations for which figures were included, while elected members of the House of Representatives ranked fifth of the eight countries reviewed.
Against that background, Munroe and Henry agreed with the TCI report that "fixing remuneration for parliamentarians cannot be done in a vacuum".
Said Munroe: "Relating to issues of accountability, the Clarke committee recommended, and I thoroughly agree, that each parliamentarian should be required to table in Parliament an accountability report stating what they have done each year."
He also argued that members of parliament should be obliged to publicly declare the source of all income and benefits earned by them and their major interests.
"The responsibility attached to the job of a parliamentarian is set out in the Constitution: to make laws for the peace, order and good government of Jamaica and, therefore, that responsibility should attract to the post sufficient remuneration commensurate with the responsibility.
"As of now, the compensation, salaries and allowances for members of parliament, ministers and the prime minister are relatively low in comparison to other Caribbean territories," Munroe emphasised.