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MPs PAY IS RUBBISH...House Speaker says

BY HG HELPS
Editor-at-Large
helpsh@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Soon-to-retire Speaker of the House of Representatives Pearnel Charles Sr has labelled the salaries that parliamentarians get as “rubbish”, and wants representatives to be placed in a better position to take care of those who vote for them.

Charles Sr, who will not be facing the electorate as candidate for Clarendon North Central, which he now represents in Parliament, in the next general election due in 2021 but expected next year, has ridiculed the salaries paid to members of the Jamaican Parliament in particular, saying that the roughly $300,000 per month is unrealistic and not enough to satisfy the needs of the people who depend on politicians for sustenance.

“To be a good parliamentarian requires that you have to take certain interests in the constituency when it comes to the people. For example, education, health of the family, the welfare of the child, and the environment in which people live,” the 83-year-old veteran stated.

“There is no way $300,000 can compensate anybody who truly going to want to represent a constituency. If you have to assist with medical bills and they come to your office every day; in educating the child, providing books, uniform, transport and food; plus you have to assist those who are not working to take care of the children going and not going to school, that cannot do.

“The politics that we play in Jamaica is not executive politics, where you drive past and say 'hi' and wave. That's not what it is anymore. It is one in which you are family involved with a constituency. Who don't have a job you have to help them with some food, who don't have a good house you have to help them fix it, who get a medical bill and can't buy the medicine, you have to buy it, whose car break down you have to help. It is total involvement with the people; the involvement is to assist them in their everyday living for themselves and their families,” Charles Sr stated.

“So what is being paid to a MP, if he is doing his job, is foolishness. If you follow me to the country, I will drive through and the requests that follow me everywhere I stop takes care of the month's salary that I get, if I have to respond to 50 per cent of the requests,” he went on.

Charles Sr said one of the reasons why people are not voting anymore in high numbers is because they complain of not getting benefits from politicians.

“When you have a population like Jamaica where 50 per cent of the people don't vote, why you think they not voting? It's because they don't get nothing. They have their prescriptions folded up until they break — they have no money to fill them. If the MP don't give them, they can't fill it. Plus, a lot of them don't eat, don't buy no clothes, and their children don't go to school.

“Maybe our politics is wrong, but we give the impression that we can help if you vote for us. What happens, I tell a man vote for me [and] I will help him. He wants his house to fix, I will help. He wants his road to fix, I will help; and you promise them something that is directly affecting them. Like they don't have water in this area from whenever, you say you going get water, but no water come; you say you going get electricity, him don't get it. So why you think a man will vote for you on election day if you have no electricity or water or road, or him pickney caa [attend] school? It's because the MP is poorer than many of the people that they are serving.

“I'm not saying that you will always be able to do all the things that are necessary, but right now you not doing any. I have been in a constituency for 20 years and half the constituency don't have no water, and water is in abundance two or three miles away on the flat. A quarter of my constituency don't have no electricity because REP (Rural Electrification Programme) can't work up there? It's rubbish,” the man who also served as senator in the ruling Jamaica Labour Party said.

He proceeded to give personal experience of voter apathy, which he said affects almost every representative.

“I went to a man to ask him to vote for me. He said 'Mr Charles I will vote for you but you see the road that comes to my yard, you have to fix it before election'. Now, this is the night before the election. I said but boss, election is tomorrow, him say him no business, and him don't vote.

“I have had to use some of my salary to do this and that and if I didn't do it, I couldn't run back. When you see a child couldn't go to school this week because he neither has bus fare nor lunch and he is not on PATH, how the hell are you going to walk away from that and say you are the MP?

“When a man comes to your office and says he is dying and he gets a prescription for a drug that is not at the hospital and he has to buy it, what are you going to do, tell him say you don't have no money? Or go thief? And many MPs get into trouble as a result of that.

“In today's world, the man has no light in his yard so him caa watch TV. There is no housing scheme that he can get a house, so apart from the fact that you are not paid well, you have to hide. Many MPs have to hide from their constituents and constituency because they are not able to fund the requests. And people will say you naa gwaan with nothing man, you naa tek care a me, because they now expect you to take care of them. In bold letters, the politics might be very wrong, but it is open before you. A man considers his vote very expensive.”

But how does Charles Sr feel about the view that it is the MPs who break people into bad habits?

“No! The politics from the beginning is to promise people that you can do things for them if they do a thing for you. I will give you house, land, water, electricity, school, hospital if you vote for me. From the beginning, Busta [Sir Alexander Bustamante] promised a little a this, Norman [Manley] promised education, Busta promised food, the people say you can't nyam education, you haffi get food. So Busta win, because the man say you haffi get food before him can go a school. Norman said once you get education you can get food forever.

“So the thing started from there. It's never executive in Jamaica where a MP is to assist in governance. A MP is to assist you in you yard and you domestic affairs. In other countries the executive is governance. If we don't send a drum of water to a man's yard, him don't drink tea. If we don't throw marl on him road him have no road, if we don't give him bus fare for him children they don't go school, if we don't give them something for lunch they don't eat.”

Charles insists that the “whole politics” has to change. Government, he said, should be giving full support to, what he termed, the things that MPs need to do, among them providing electricity, water, health care, education, and security.

“That's a government business,” the elder statesman suggested. “Right now those things are the business of the MP, and if the MP can't carry them him naa get no vote.

“So what the MP is getting now as pay is foolishness. All it does is stimulate him not to go into his constituency. All it does is say to him, if you go out there you going lose because the people going see you and ask you for something and you can't give them.

“I am lucky that I have four doctors in my family — I send patients to my children. My son gives millions of dollars in surgeries free, but not every family is that fortunate.

“You cannot blame the people, because the politics of today is I will vote for you if you can assist me with my difficulties, and I promise to assist you with ... difficulties if you vote for me. So once you vote for me I have to hide, so the next time around I am not voting,” Charles Sr said.

Rather than providing incentives to voters for them to exercise their democratic right, Charles Sr suggests that an audit should be done across Jamaica to know what the needs are in certain areas, but maintains that “there needs to be a revision of our politics”.

Charles is also firm in his view that by improving the remuneration of parliamentarians, it will improve the quality of candidates who would want to become involved in politics.



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