Members of Parliament (MPs) yesterday voted to suspend the business of government as they demanded that their conditions of service be quickly looked in to.
The MPs had requested better conditions of service and a salary of four thousand dollars ($4,000 or Le 12 million) per month but the Finance Minister David Carew who had been summoned to parliament to address the issue told them that what the President gave him as recommendation for salaries was six thousand dollars ($6,000 or Le18million) as monthly salaries.
The MPs present take home pay is two million two hundred and eighty eight thousand seven hundred and forty five Leones (Le 2,288,745) per month whilst the ministers take home is two million two hundred and forty three thousand Leones (Le2,243,000), but the MPs argued that the ministers have housing, vehicles and other better condition unlike them.
The Minister of Finance David Carew was summoned to Parliament after the Deputy minority leader, Hon Emmanuel Tommy moved the motion for him to appear before them to explain why the welfare of Parliamentarians is being held to ransom and also a supplementary question from Hon Elizabeth Lavalie asking why the standards and conditions of service for MPs were still not looked in to.
Finance Minister Carew told them that when he took over office, he realised that the issue of salaries for public officials will have to be reviewed stressing that the limiting factor will however be the affordability. MPs murmured when he said that until they were cautioned by the speaker.
Minister Carew continued that few weeks ago, President Koroma gave him a report on the conditions and suggested salaries for MPs. His responsibility, he told them was to look at the suggested salary on the basis of whether he could afford the money.
Explaining the constraints, the Minister said, in using the 2009 budget, the GDP of the country was about $5 billion and that when the 2009 budget process was started, every MDA was asked to submit their activity for 2009 which rose to Le1.25 trillion but stressed the problem of sustaining it. “We are going to close 2008 with arrears because based on the allocation we have made to various MDA’s they would have contracted goods and services which have to be paid for and the money (is not readily available thus) immediately the income for 2009 is being strained by expenditure which do not relate to the programme for 2009 which has to be paid for”
On the salary issue he said “the document I received from the President suggested that a reasonable payment as salaries for members of Parliament will be six thousand dollars ($6,000 or Le18million) and when you look at $6,000 for approximately 124 MPs on an annual basis is about 28billion (Le26,784,000,000 or twenty six billion, seven hundred and eighty four million Leones). Right now for 66,000 public officers, we are about 400 billion Leones. It is against this background that the President rejected any suggestion for an increase in his remuneration”
Continuing, he argued “Yes it’s okay for us to do with $6,000 as salary for MPs but immediately we do this the Executive (ministers) will join the queue, if they do not take $6,000 they will take $5,000. The Judges and the Lawyers will join the queue, the Civil Service, the Labour Union and other trade groups …”
The Finance Minister cautioned that the salary will have an inflationary effect on the economy and a growth effect not supported by production and when that is done, a situation will arise where funding for other programs will not be available “what we suggest is that we will do a gradual increase in line with our productive capacity that is why we are trying to stimulate the private sector so that we will get more from them”.
Speaking on the issue of vehicles for MPs, the Finance Minister said there was a proposal in front of him from Parliament and he has been engaged by Hon Ibrahim Sorie with “each MP wanting forty five thousand dollars ($45,000) each for a vehicle at a cost of $5million and they want the budget to absorb 70% of that sum amounting to $3.5 Million and they want to pay 30% over the three years of the life of Parliament”.
Under normal circumstances, he charged “that is an unreasonable request”. He suggested that in the present budget structure, government cannot, without reverting to donors support for that kind of expenditure.
MPs were visibly not happy. The ratification of the loan agreements which was laid on the table on Thursday November 6 and also the debt relief agreement under the HIPC debt relief initiative between Sierra Leone and the OPEC fund for International Development were not ratified because Parliament was adjourned sine dine after MPs voted to suspend government business.
The Finance minister is today (Friday) scheduled to present the government budget and statement of economic and financial policies for financial year 2009. With the developments in parliament that is also not likely to take place.
The budget committee was urged by the speaker to immediately enter in to discussions with the Finance minister to expedite the issue so that Parliament could resume sittings. By Ishmael Bayoh