To whom much is given
Members of the political directorate are set to receive a hefty increase in salaries.

The whopping salary increases awarded to the political directorate by the Andrew Holness Administration as announced are an epic example of how unconscionable, uncaring, and arrogant this Government has become.

There is a reasonable argument to support Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke's rationale for pursuing this path as over the years there is irrefutable evidence that our elected representatives have been underpaid, though not always overworked. However, any attempt to address this situation in a positive way must be put within the context of the usually high levels of underperformance and general incompetence of Members of Parliament and councillors, the ways in which public sector employees have been treated and recompensed, as well as the many burning issues facing the country which require urgent financial attention.

From all indications, Prime Minister Holness and his Cabinet colleagues have taken the people for granted, overlooking the fact that when citizens vote they are seeking to establish a contract with the Government in which mutual respect, accountability, trust, and compassion are hallmarks that must be embraced. Instead, the people, in the final analysis, only truly matter when votes are to be counted. And most Jamaicans are most painfully aware of this fact, hence the reason for the high level of voter apathy as well as the high level of distrust and cynicism.

There is also the economy. Jamaica remains one of the poorest countries in the Caribbean and Latin America. We have one of the highest murder rates in the world, and low productivity, illiteracy, indiscipline, and persistent poverty abound. The social and physical infrastructure is creaky and lopsided, which means we, for the most part, do not have our priorities right.

Whether we want to face it or not, this is a recipe for social unrest and an increasing disconnect between the people and the Government.

Now, all this is taking place against the backdrop of Jamaica's quest for republican status, thus freeing itself from the shackles of colonialism, inclusive of the Privy Council and the British monarchy. Bear in mind that some years ago the late Dr Carl Stone conducted a survey which revealed that over 60 per cent of Jamaicans polled at the time would have preferred if Jamaica remained a British colony.

Fast-forward to the present and it is perhaps safe to say that most Jamaicans would vote for republican status now, but given these increases, they may want to pause to consider whether they will just simply be choosing a new set of masters? Indeed, a classic case of swopping black dog for monkey.

With this high-handed approach by Prime Minister Holness and his sidekick Dr Nigel Clarke, one has to question if this is a sign of what to expect in this new dispensation? After all, as the Jamaican saying goes, "Tek sleep mark death." It should be posited that when such a major shift in policy is to be undertaken, there should at least be some consultation with the people before it is implemented.

As for those who are contending that the salaries of Members of Parliament, mayors, and councillors should be in line with what entails in the private sector, they should not compare apples to oranges. After all, there are clear-cut job descriptions and performance criteria.

To date, the prime minister has failed to implement one of his many unfulfilled promises, that of providing job descriptions, and it is imperative that our elected representatives are held accountable at all times, with the possibility of recall and impeachment, instead of it being business as usual.

Yes, there has been the pervasive view that better salaries may help lessen corruption by our elected officials, but that remains to be seen because these fat-cat payments may just make them more laid-back and lazy, unless there are the necessary checks and balances.

There is a post making the rounds on social media which reads: "No country can progress if its politics is more profitable than its industries. In a country where those in Government are richer than entrepreneurs, they manufacture poverty."

In the meantime, the many inequities and iniquities to be found in government boggle the mind. Look at the wretched state of many of our schools and hospitals, not to mention roads and bridges, and we could go on. All are in need of urgent attention. But, no, let the people eat cake!

It is interesting to see the stance taken by the Opposition People's National Party so far, which was expected, given the cut and thrust of our politics. Opposition Leader Mark Golding must not just oppose for the sake of opposing. He and his party must put on the table a more amenable and acceptable solution. As for the private sector leadership, they must be reminded about being neither cold nor hot, lest, as the Good Book says, they will be spewed out of the people's mouth, as its response so far has been somewhat lukewarm.

The bottom line is that there is a great deal of consternation, shock, anger, and disbelief in the wider society because the people feel this is a most undeserving bonanza for those who have failed so far to truly stand and deliver.

The beneficiaries of these salary increases must remember that to whom much is given, much is expected. The proof of the pudding must be in the eating.

Lloyd B Smith has been involved in Jamaican media for the past 48 years. He has also served as a Member of Parliament and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. He hails from western Jamaica where he is popularly known as the Governor. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or

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