JMEA boss says PM declining salary increase ... ‘DOESN’T MAKE MUCH SENSE’
THE JAMAICA Manufacturers and Exporters Association (JMEA), one of the country’s leading business groups, believes Prime Minister Andrew Holness’ decision to decline his 214 per cent salary increase is meaningless, though the Private Sector...
THE JAMAICA Manufacturers and Exporters Association (JMEA), one of the country’s leading business groups, believes Prime Minister Andrew Holness’ decision to decline his 214 per cent salary increase is meaningless, though the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) thinks time will tell.
“I don’t think it makes a lot of sense for him now to decline to take the salary increase,” argued JMEA President John Mahfood.
He said: “The Cabinet must have considered the matter and determined, including him, that they were correct in their decision to make the salary increase and to now turn around, for political reasons, for both himself and the leader of the opposition to essentially turn down the increase defeats the purpose of the increase in the first place, and makes you wonder about the justification for the increase.”
The PSOJ is less strident, though its president, Metry Seaga, acknowledged that Holness’ effort at solidarity with public sector workers furious about the increases for ministers, members of parliament (MPs) and councillors is “a symbolic one”.
“It’s not material and I’m not sure if it’s gonna be enough for the outcry that we have heard, but time will tell,” he told The Gleaner shortly after the prime minister’s address yesterday evening on the issue that has generated widespread public backlash because of relative lower levels of increase to workers such as teachers, doctors and nurses.
The prime minister’s annual salary was slated to jump by 214 per cent, with his pay moving from $9.1 million in 2021 to $25.6 million this April and to $28.6 million on April 1, 2024.
Last week, Opposition Leader Mark Golding said he would give 80 per cent of his increase to charity. His salary is leaping 221 per cent, from a little over $8 million in 2021 to $22.7 million in April, and $25.7 million in 2024.
Holness argued yesterday that he “symbolically and truthfully” understands public concerns, hence his directive for the prime minister’s pay to be removed from the new salary scale. No retroactive payments will apply.
“I firmly believe that when this new compensation scheme is complete and all anomalies are resolved, coupled with the new performance management and accountability system which will be implemented, we will see an increase in the motivation and the productivity of the public sector,” Holness said, referencing the contentious review of wages for public sector workers and calls for inequities to be addressed.
The prime minister, who encouraged ministers and MPs to accept their increases, did not answer a journalist’s question on how long he will forgo the increase.
It’s also not clear whether Holness will take the MPs’ increase which will move by 230 per cent from $4.3 million to $14.2 million per year next year. It will be $12.5 million as of April 1.
Holness’ announcement comes a week after the salaries’ disclosure from Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke.
Several sector groups, including the JMEA, PSOJ, the Jamaica Teachers’ Association, the Jamaica Council of Churches and the Jamaica Civil Service Association, expressed concerns about the timing, and levels of increase which Holness acknowledged as “shocking”.
The Opposition People’s National Party went on a flip, jumping from saying, through spokesman on finance Julian Robinson that they take “no issue”, to declaring within hours that the new rates were “morally indefensible” and should be adjusted downwards.
Pointing to the decades-old formula used to calculate salaries for ministers and MPs, Holness disclosed that the figures could have been higher, but “we decided to bring it down to what would not compromise the logic of the compensation system”.
The logic, he said, is aligning compensation with responsibility.
“This Government takes the time to properly analyse, deliberate, and yes, agonise over making these decisions. We don’t make them lightly. We don’t make them trying to ignore how you feel about your politicians. I want you to appreciate that,” he said.
Meanwhile, a long-promised performance evaluation mechanism for MPs and ministers appears closer to reality. Critics have hounded the prime minister for Cabinet job descriptions he promised in the run-up to the 2016 general election.
Yesterday, seven years later, Jamaicans got more specifics from the head of Government.
He said written job descriptions for ministers completed in 2021 will be tabled in Parliament. A code of conduct developed under the PJ Patterson administration will be reviewed at the next Cabinet meeting and then submitted to Parliament.
There will also be financial penalties for “unexplained absences” from Gordon House sittings and committee meetings. In addition to those, MPs will be required to report on their constituency activities and achievements. Lawmakers will also be required to participate in courses on parliamentary affairs.
Ministers will also be required to publish policy goals that they intend to achieve each fiscal year.
“We didn’t just come with this salary increase to just take a salary increase. And, yes, your concerns about accountability, productivity, performance are valid,” he asserted.
Holness acknowledged that despite the “fundamental principle” of collective responsibility for Cabinet ministers, there will be “individual pressures and it might change certain dynamics”.
“But I think it is necessary to bring the public to a point where they can have confidence that the cover of collective responsibility is not being taken advantage of where some ministers are working and others are not,” he said.
The JMEA head Mahfood said publishing the job descriptions is “fine”, though he still has a concern.
“The question of holding his party and the members of the Cabinet to account is his responsibility,” said Mahfood. “It’s can’t be that of the public.”
The PSOJ president said the organisation is “very happy” with the update on the performance evaluation system.
“However, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating,” Seaga said.