I have given careful thought to the recent salary increases for political representatives and in particular the fact that the occupant of the post of prime minister of Jamaica is to be remunerated a gross pay of $25.3 million effective April 1, 2023 and $28.6 million effective April 1 the following year.
I must admit, I was initially concerned about the magnitude of the spike in the prime minister's gross pay, which had moved from the contextually paltry sum of approximately $9 million per annum. However, having further deliberated upon the issue, I now conclude that perhaps outcry at the increase is misplaced and the sizeable bolstering of the salary is long overdue.
There are a few factors which weighed upon my mind in coming to this conclusion, the first being that it cannot be right for the bosses of agencies, including The Port Authority of Jamaica (PAJ), Factories Corporation of Jamaica (FCJ), National Housing Trust (NHT), and a permanent secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) to earn more than the policy/political head of the ministry under whose auspices they operate
As of 2017, the salary of the president and CEO of the PAJ, who reports to the prime minister, was reported in the public domain to be $26.2 million, way above the approximately $9 million which the prime minister was previously remunerated. In fact, in 2021 it was reported that the general manager of the Urban Development Corporation (UDC), an agency which reports to the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation (MEGJC) headed by the Prime Minister Andrew Holness, was publicised to be well over $9 million, that is just above or on par with the prime minister's remuneration.
Furthermore, in 2021, a local newspaper reported that the managing director of the HEART/NSTA Trust, an agency which reports to the prime minister, opens with a minimum salary of approximately $10 million and a maximum of $11.7 million, well above the prime minister's previous salary.
This previously prevailing salary configuration was, in my view, an unprincipled, perverse, and morally incorrect misalignment in remuneration, especially when scope of duties and responsibilities are considered. It is good that it has been corrected.
It is also worthy of note that a culture exists in Jamaica and the region, whereby, when things go awry in an agency, it is not the agency heads who are blamed or generally called to account but the policy head of the ministry, who is the minister. I have contemplated and concluded that it is a positive development that the reconfigured salary arrangement appears to take into consideration this culture of accounting, which exists in Jamaica and other regional territories, in which ministers generally face heat for missteps at agencies which fall within the scope of their portfolio responsibility.
In deliberating upon this matter of the rightness, or lack thereof, of the salary increase afforded to the head of the executive, I also considered that, apart from his duties as head of the Cabinet, minister of defence, and chairman of the national security council, which is the key driver of the Government's national security policies, Prime Minister Holness has, without controversy, guided key positive policy adjustments at the raft of major agencies which fall under his portfolio.
Only this year it was reported that the National Water Commission's financial performance has shown a notable turnaround, moving from a net loss of $2.13 billion in the 2021/22 financial year to a net year-to-date profit of $2.73 billion as of January 2022/23. That's a major transformation for a once-beleaguered entity.
Concerning a crucial agency under the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), it was also disclosed this year that the NHT is now on track to build 22,000 housing solutions by the end of this financial year, the most that has reportedly ever been built by any administration in any term. This is in addition to the thousands of houses constructed via the now-transformed Housing Agency of Jamaica (HAJ), which has also recorded an improvement in its operations. Thankfully, the HAJ is reportedly no longer deemed a fiscal risk to the Government.
The landmark New Social Housing Programme (NSHP), which also falls under MEGJC and on a weekly basis has been delivering houses to those most in need across various constituencies represented by Members of Parliament from both sides of the political aisle, is also worthy of note and representative of the prime minister delivering in a crucial area, that of the socio-economic well-being of Jamaicans, including society's most vulnerable.
I am aware that in the 1980s then Prime Minister Edward Seaga took on responsibility for the Ministry of Finance; however, I do not believe that any other prime minister in Jamaica's history has ever taken on the vast scope of responsibilities that Prime Minister Holness has, all the while delivering results in several key areas.
When the issue of the significant adjustment to the salary of the occupant of the post of prime minister of Jamaica is given sober consideration and pondered within the aforementioned context, I am convinced that reasonable minds will conclude that Prime Minister Andrew Holness is more than deserving.
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