More reason for the MP's office to be run by the State

Miss Rhoda Moy Crawford's plea in Parliament for an increase in the funds allocated to Members of Parliament (MPs) each month to operate their constituency offices or for the Parliament to cover the expense highlights a point we have made in this space before.

Parliamentarians, we hold, should be serving their constituents from offices built and run by the State, rather than their political parties.

Last week, during her contribution to the state of the constituency debate in the House, Miss Crawford, a first-term Government legislator who represents Manchester Central, complained that the allowance MPs receive is just not enough to see to the proper functioning of their office as it cannot cover the costs for rent, utilities, office furniture, technological devices such as computers and printers, stationery, office cellular phones "so that our constituents can reach us beyond office hours", pay a cleaner/attendant and a bearer, among other expenses.

The allowance, we have been told, is approximately $250,000 per month, and while some of the more experienced MPs will not quibble about it given that for a very long time they had to make do with something in the region of $80,000 the allocation is really not that much in the context of today's realities.

Regardless of how people may feel about parliamentarians, driven mostly by inadequate performance of some, no one can deny that their job is difficult, especially given the dire needs of many of their constituents. That there are still so many Jamaicans who look to their political representatives for assistance is really an indictment on how successive governments have run the country and speaks to an annoying culture of dependency that is not discouraged by most legislators.

In her appeal last week, Miss Crawford stated that the insufficient allowance has resulted in new MPs resorting to executing their duties "through the kind contributions of the business community and from our salaries".

Therein lies the rub.

We cannot be serious about tackling corruption by leaving legislators open to influence from contributors. That also raises the issue of campaign funding, which we will get to at another time.

An additional benefit of establishing a true office of the Member of Parliament would be a reduction in political polarisation as such a State-sponsored and managed office would be devoid of the partisan hue that marks the current structures.

The fact is that individuals who sit in the legislature are sent there by the populace to represent everyone in their constituency. Their service should not be exclusive to the people who voted for them. Indeed, any among them who still demand to know from people seeking their help the details of their ballot should be rejected by the electorate as they are not fit for the job.

As we have pointed out before, the country already has a template for such an office devoid of political party branding in the existence of the Office of the Opposition Leader at 1 West King's House Road in St Andrew.

That office, we recall, was established on a campaign promise by former Prime Minister Bruce Golding in November 2008.

Since then, successive holders of that position have been able to conduct affairs of State from the building, which is equipped with a panelled reception hall, conference room to seat 12 people, a reception room for courtesy calls, remodelled restrooms, offices for administrative staff, and an executive office in keeping with the status of the Opposition leader, a constitutional office that is expected to stand above the fray of tribalism.

Applying a similar structure to constituency offices can only redound to the country's benefit if we are truly committed to transforming our politics and governance structures.

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