Fri | Jun 2, 2023

Michael Abrahams | Who is for us?

Published:Tuesday | May 23, 2023 | 12:14 AM
In this February photo, Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke (left) and Prime Minister Andrew Holness are seen engaging in a tête-à-tête in the Parliament.
In this February photo, Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke (left) and Prime Minister Andrew Holness are seen engaging in a tête-à-tête in the Parliament.

“Me say de Babylon system is the vampire, falling empire,

Suckin’ the blood of the sufferers, yeah!”

Babylon System , Bob Marley and The Wailers

There was no pussyfooting by the Government this time.

Last week, Minister of Finance and the Public Service Dr Nigel Clarke announced massive salary hikes for the political directorate in a statement to the House of Representatives. The measures will increase the salaries of members of parliament and Cabinet ministers by over 200 per cent. For example, the prime minister’s salary leaps by 214 per cent. His pay jumps from $9.1 million in 2021 to $28.6 million on April 1, 2024. Effective April 1, he will earn $25.3 million annually.

Does the prime minister deserve a raise? Absolutely. He has a challenging job and deserves to be paid more than the paltry sum he has been taking home. The same goes for members of parliament and Cabinet ministers, too. The people running the country should be appropriately remunerated. I have no issue with the principle of a salary hike for them.

What I take umbrage at are the magnitude and timing of the increases, coming on the heels of teachers tussling with the Government over their salaries and essentially being bullied into accepting an offer. Teachers, nurses, police and members of other professions essential for the country’s well-being are repeatedly in contentious arguments with the Government regarding their salaries.

For example, nurses are critical for the health sector. Apart from performing regular nursing duties, which can be physically demanding, they have to deal with the mental stress of rude and abusive patients and their family members and visitors. Their reward for this is a meagre salary that many struggle to exist on, especially if they have children. Too many nurses find themselves standing at bus stops, in searing heat or pouring rain, after working long hours because they cannot afford even a small vehicle.

The same for teachers, too. Their salaries are woefully inadequate, and even though they are not paid well, many use some of the little money they have to purchase classroom supplies and help students in need. And like nurses, they too are exposed to aggressive and violent behaviour from students and parents.


A teacher I know, who has 20 years of experience and a master’s degree, told me she felt “numb” when she heard of the salary increases for politicians. Even with the rise in her salary, she will still have to be “crimping, pinching and scrounging” to make ends meet. Similarly, a nurse friend of mine, who describes herself as a “Labourite”, told me she was “livid” when she heard of the increases, and described it as a “slap in the face”. Even with her salary increase, she does not see herself being able to buy a home in the near future.

There is discontent within the police force as well. Being a cop in a country with one of the highest murder rates in the world, often working in broken-down stations and driving in vehicles in need of repair, can be very demotivating. But what our police officers are being paid is a significant contributing factor to their stress, and the lack of equity displayed with the recent salary increases does not help. As a police friend said, she feels the increases were “insulting” and “disrespectful”.

And many others are feeling disenfranchised. During a conversation with a senior firefighter, the anger expressed was palpable. After almost three decades of service, after a recent increase, the take-home salary is less than $20,000 more. And, to make matters worse, the travelling allowance, which previously was not taxed, is now taxed. Soldiers are not too happy, either. A friend in the Jamaica Defence Force is still awaiting her retroactive salary, telling me she feels like she “does not count” and is “not recognised”.

In one gargantuan fell swoop, the Government has feathered the nests of parliamentarians and Cabinet ministers, while simultaneously pulling the rug from under hard-working civil servants.

According to the minister of finance, the move was “in the best interest of Jamaica” and about “the quality Jamaica will be able to attract and retain in positions of political leadership”. Utter rubbish. This is not about attracting better quality. It is about greed and selfishness. It is about people looking out for themselves. There is no evidence that increasing politicians’ salaries will “attract quality”.


What the Government’s actions will do, however, is further demotivate civil servants. For example, we are already experiencing a chronic and unrelenting shortage of nurses and teachers, as people in these professions struggling to survive in Jamaica are being successfully courted by other countries. Our education and health sectors are bleeding, and the insensitive and tone-deaf actions of the Government have only served to exacerbate the haemorrhage, when they should be trying to cauterise it. When teachers and nurses leave, our collective health and education levels will be compromised, and our country will suffer. Indeed, according to, Jamaica ranks second on the list of countries with greatest human capital flight, or ‘brain drain’.

So, how about attracting and retaining nurses, teachers and others who are sorely needed in our society? Isn’t that of greater value? Clarke’s reasoning smacks of disingenuity and is an insult to our intelligence.

The Government will tell you that people in leadership positions in some professions received significant increases too, and that is true. But the rank-and-file workers, doing the hard and dirty work on the ground, have been disrespected and kicked to the kerb.

And why increase the salary of the governor general, a figurehead and vestige of our colonial past, to $34 million? What is he doing to enhance the lives of Jamaicans?

And what about the Opposition? We have none. They have walked out of Parliament for less egregious offences than this. But, apart from the leader of the Opposition, who has said he will donate 80 per cent of his salary to charity, they are going to take the money and run. They are no better. Both parties have betrayed us.

What we are seeing with the Government is an open and shameless display of abuse of power, arrogance, greed, insensitivity, and lack of empathy for the people they were chosen to represent.

We must not tolerate it.

Michael Abrahams is an obstetrician and gynaecologist, social commentator and human-rights advocate. Send feedback to and, or follow him on Twitter @mikeyabrahams.