Thu | Jun 1, 2023

Ronald Thwaites | When more is less

Published:Monday | May 22, 2023 | 12:23 AM
Joint Sitting of the Senate and the House of Representatives in commemoration in August 2022.
Joint Sitting of the Senate and the House of Representatives in commemoration in August 2022.

My salary upon retirement as a Cabinet minister in 2016 was around one-quarter of what the present Minister of Education will soon earn, courtesy of Nigel Clarke’s announcements last week. I suppose I should feel mollified since from 2007 to 2020, I was the most outspoken parliamentarian advocating just pay and decent health insurance. All to no avail – until now.

The ministry of education is, I believe, one of the most crucial and demanding of all ministries. Whoever heads it, if they are serious, must sacrifice personal life, any other pursuit of income, sleep, and all hope of a low-anxiety existence. And the chances of reaping the satisfaction of success, however defined, are very slim. Just look what’s happening there now.

I know of several instances where Cabinet has had to extend charity to former prime ministers, deputy prime ministers and other retired elected officials for medical and other costs because their poorly paid years of service have landed them in hard times.

From experience if you mean to do more than profile, being a member of Parliament, let alone a minister, is the most stressful and unstructured job there is. To combine both jobs efficiently, is to court early death.


So I support an increase in pay for parliamentarians and councillors, but not the splurge, the diarrhoea of money, which was announced last week. Elected representatives should not be pauperised by offering themselves for public service. Neither should they be enriched disproportionately in relation to the condition of the people they represent and whose sacrifice pays them. They must sacrifice too if they are to be trusted.

It is not the small money which keeps bright and committed people out of politics. Rather it is suffocating bureaucracy, the inevitable frustration and the nasty stain of chronic tribalism which are the main deterrents. Sadly, it is the grabbers and ‘wutlis’ people who will now line up to run a seat to get big pay.


More is going to turn out to be less. What accountability, what added value, what measurable targets to increase productivity, have minister or prime minister stipulated in exchange for all this big money? These objectives, vital to any struggle against inflation, were ever mentioned in the process of public service reform. Now, some after-the-fact promises of “soon come”.


Public servants had better check out carefully what is their tax position when all previous allowances are rolled into basic pay. That’s what many teachers, nurses and police are doing right now as they pack their bags to migrate. Check too how much better off you really are when you have paid your ever-increasing bills with the nuff devalued dollars. Sad but true to say, the 5.8 per cent inflation rate does not fully reflect the basic purchases of the majority of citizens.

The small lunch in my area is now $650. And although Audley doesn’t know it yet, bus fares have been raised already, and not by six per cent either. Toilet paper is $20 for six squares. One imported cabbage runs you more than a grand.


Every MP with a heart for people’s suffering or who hopes for re-election will end up spending at least a large part, if not the whole of his/her salary on constituency emergencies. For example, Central Kingston is a place for regular, devastating fires. It takes weeks to get a rehabilitation grant or a constituency development fund draw-down to relieve destitution. So the member of parliament reaches into his own pocket plenty times. Worse pressure for them now.


Greed is going to choke puppy. Being taken advantage of and disrespected are things Jamaican people hate. This hurt is sticking in people’s craw. After this, government has no moral basis to call on anyone for wage restraint. Andrew and Nigel have “run wid it” and so invited everyone else to follow.


What is really behind the JLP doubling down on this very unpopular measure which is boomeranging against them? Upon what base of principled thinking is their policy founded? It is embarrassing when our highest servants are called choppers and scammers.

Cynics say it’s just greedy ‘cut and run’ behaviour, insurance against defeat. Others seem to think that persons with state power are entitled to live high life, dwell in stush castles and otherwise conspicuously consume. Holness said it years ago when he spoke of every Jamaican aspiring after a big house. Remember how Nigel cowed down the public sector unions and Karl less-cared the security guards. Now they give themselves this golden lottery draw with our money. Have they no shame?

Excessive pay for the few, (imagine 300 per cent for the nearly obsolescent governor general, big bucks for the minister who is a certified buffoon and the one who does not know the meaning of “consensus”, but not a quattie for pensioners) is the opposite of modesty and self-restraint which are the only decent moral standards for leaders in a nation of great poverty and injustice.


Do we want to forever be a nation of “haves and have-nots”; of socially and spiritually-distorting inequality?

Nigel should reflect on the ethical moorings which led him from his lucrative perch into public service. He never came for money. The example of his parents could inform him of noble standards of service. What is on the table now is just too self-indulgent; tone-deaf and disrespectful to the pain of the majority.

And what will be the People National Party’s settled position? Will they lead in advocating moderation and justice for all, especially the weakest, rather than for the favoured few of whichever party? They have to do better than proposing that the increases should be postponed until all public service anomalies are corrected. That begs the question as to what will be their principled stance afterwards.

Living simply so that others can simply live is a virtuous precept, endorsed in Holy Scripture. Many times, indeed this time, more can end up yielding less.

Rev Ronald G. Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. He is former member of parliament for Kingston Central and was the minister of education. He is the principal of St Michael’s College at the UWI. Send feedback to