PORT OF SPAIN –– Fresh moves are underway to increase the salaries of the Prime Minister, cabinet ministers, the Opposition Leader and all other MPs.
This is as a Salaries Review Commission (SRC) consultant met with senior Government and Opposition MPs last week to initiate the process for the hike.
Among those who attended the one-hour meeting, which was held in Parliament last week, were House Speaker Bridgid Annisette-George, Senate President Christine Kangaloo, Finance Minister Colm Imbert, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi, Planning and Development Minister Camille Robinson-Regis, Rural Development and Local Government Minister Franklin Khan, Works and Transport Minister Fitzgerald Hinds and Opposition MPs Ganga Singh, Dr Bhoendradatt Tewarie and Ramona Ramdial.
An employee of the Hays Group solicited the views of those present on the need for a pay hike.
Guardian understands that both Government and Opposition MPs came out in favour of the pay hike.
In 2011, the PSC undertook a similar exercise and three years later, in 2014 when the hike was recommended by the PSC, then prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar said that the Cabinet had rejected the increases.
She had said then that any pay hike would not have been supported by the wider population.
One of the contentious issues over the past years has been whether an MP works full-time or part-time. Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley had said previously that the work of MPs is full-time and this should be reflected in the pay. Since assuming power in September 2015 the Government has increased the number of Joint Select Parliamentary oversight committees to 17 which has significantly increased the workload of ministers and MPs. There are six Joint Select Committee meetings scheduled for Tuesday; four available for public attendance and two will be in camera.
The move is being met with immediate opposition from former head of the public service Reginald Dumas. Contacted for comment Monday, Dumas said while the SRC, an independent body, was free to make its recommendations for a salary increase for MPs they should not be accepted by the Parliament.
Dumas said, “Given the current economic situation in T&T an increase in MPs’ salaries would send an entirely wrong signal to citizens many of whom have lost their jobs in recent months and others expected to lose their jobs in the future.” He said the move comes “at a time when the cost of living has gone up because of new taxes being imposed on food and other commodities”.
Dumas said any acceptance of a salary hike by MPs at this time would be wrong.
Dumas said the fact that more MPs were serving on an increased number of oversight committees in Parliament was not a good enough reason for accepting any pay hike at this time. He said that there are many people serving without pay on bodies such as the Economic Development Advisory Board.
The former permanent secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister said he was “not impressed” by the argument that MPs were doing more work and should be paid higher salaries.
He said a parliamentarian should not only think about himself or herself but about all of Trinidad and Tobago in the prevailing circumstances. He said he wanted to know why there should be a pay hike for MPs in the wake of the government’s unprecedented withdrawal of funds from the Heritage and Stabilisation Fund and a proposal by Imbert to go abroad on a Road Show to get money for the country.
But former government minister Conrad Enill said it was because of the need to properly manage the economy a pay hike should be accepted by the MPs if and when it is recommended by the SRC.
Enill, who served in previous PNM administrations as minister of Energy and minister of Energy and Energy Affairs, said government ministers were required to manage billions of dollars on behalf of the citizens but were not being properly compensated.
“The salary considerations for government ministers have been for a very long time not consistent with the jobs they have to do,” Enill added in a brief interview with the T&T Guardian Monday.
He said it was for that reason the best cannot be attracted to serve and even if they were attracted they did not stay.
“The country deserves the best talent that is available but talent cannot be discriminated on the basis of pay,” he insisted.
Enill said the argument that government ministers should be compensated like any other worker was foolish and unacceptable.
He said a government minister was required to do the same for the nation as a managing director or chief executive officer does for a large company.
According to Enill, a government minister, in some instances, has to manage 15 different disciplines, 3,000 people “and you have to make decisions in the best interest of T&T.”
He said that requires a certain level of competence which has a value in the marketplace.
Enill said it was “only in T&T that we treat MPs like they are not entitled to salaries and perks of their office. That needs to be changed”.
Enill said, “Until we fix that we are not going to move towards democracy that provides us with the best people to give us the best work.”
He said, “At this point they are not being paid what they are worth.”