Members of Parliament last week suspended Parliamentary proceedings as they made demands for improved conditions of service. The MPs had recommended a salary of $4,000,00 (Twelve million Leones); but when the Finance Minister David Carew appeared before them, he told them what he received from the President as recommendation for the MPs was $6,000,00 (Eighteen million Leones). The Finance Minister also disclosed that through Hon Ibrahim Sorie, the MPs needed a vehicle each worth $45, 000.
The MP’s demand did not come as a surprise and I have always been expecting them to go on the rampage as they did last Thursday demanding for better conditions of service. Our Parliament has always cried loud for that and I remember during the last days of late S.B Marrah, when he advocated for better wages for MPs. Again when President Koroma was the Minority Leader in Parliament, he moved a private member motion on the conditions of service but nothing much was done. All the excuses government gave was lack of funds.
The Finance Minister referred to the salary proposal as ‘under normal condition the demand is unrealistic’. Indeed, to me also the demand of the MPs would definitely have an inflationary effect on the supported budget. Even when the Finance Minister was explaining to the MPs about the strained budget and how it is impossible for government to sustain it, the MPs did not want to listen.
Considering the fact that there are 112 Members of Parliament plus the 12 Paramount Chiefs; calculate each of their pay for four years. Also the price for one vehicle by 124; imagine what kind of scary figure you would have.
There is no problem making the conditions of service for our MPs better so that their status would befit the type of work they do; but we need to ask whether there is enough money. Remember, some of the MPs and a cross section of the Press opposed a salary increase for the President, Vice President and Cabinet Ministers, both past and present. The reason advanced basically was that there was no money. And if there is no money, then what is the justification to pay a member of Parliament that huge sum? Have the MPs so soon forgotten the uproar the salary of the President created or do they want to compare our poor economy to that of Kenya and even Guinea? Let them check the take home of the ordinary Civil Servant; probably they would cease making unrealistic demands.
The cumulative effect some of these demands would have is that the 33,000 Teachers in the Country would definitely ask for a better pay, Medical Doctors are bound to follow, as their basic salary is less than a hundred dollars; Law Officers Department would also put forward similar demands; including Nurses, the Forces (Military, Police, Fire Force, and Prisons) and other Civil Servants.
There is no gainsaying that MPs deserve status but we have to consider our economic plight and the fact that we have to make sacrifices in the process of moving the Country forward. What is most heart-rending is that some people have expressed concern over the way they are represented in Parliament. Some are also disillusioned that their MPs have abandoned their Constituencies. How many private member motions have been moved by the MPs, how many projects have they written in the area of social services for their Constituencies? How often have they taken the constraints of their constituents to the well of Parliament?
When this new Parliament was sworn in, I noticed that it was composed of young MPs; hence my belief was that we have had a vibrant Parliament, one that would be ready to challenge issues on behalf of the people. However, I was a bit disappointed when they suspended the business of government until their welfare is assured. Parliament is not a place to come and make money and definitely not a place one should think to live an affluent life. The primary function of the MP is to ensure that laws are enacted for the welfare of the people. Are the MPs asserting that they are agitating for better pay to be used to better the lives of their constituents?
The three arms of government are the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary and if the Legislature is asking for such pay, would it not be justifiable for the other two arms to do the same? When all these demands are met, the Country’s budget would be strained and allocations to some Ministries and Government Departments would be reduced.
Let us look at the political implication the salary increase will have. Even when the MPs are paid about a thousand dollars we have seen how they have conducted their politicking and how during their campaigns, using all forms of intimidation to win elections. The effect is that it would deepen the political struggle making it fiercer; because the thought would be a fat pay and an expensive vehicle.
When we start to compare our economy with other economies in the world, then we will be making a misleading point. Our own condition here is very different from others; where MPs are paid to live affluent lives. We have a donor driven economy, our tax base is low and corruption and maladministration are our problems. I think these are the issues our MPs should focus on.
The economic situation in the Country is deplorable. Water and Sanitation are becoming a problem in various Constituencies. Our pregnant women stand the risk of losing their lives with their babies after or before birth. Our hospitals lack medication; our educational institutions seem to be in confusion with the youths of school going-age posing a social threat. These are the issues our MPs should address and not a colossal pay rise.
By Ishmael Bayoh