Holness, Golding in generosity joust
Opposition leader and People's National Party President Mark Golding speaking at the party's Myersville divisional conference on Sunday night in Nain, St Elizabeth. (Photo: Kasey Williams)

NAIN, St Elizabeth — A joust over generosity has developed between Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Opposition Leader Mark Golding as controversy over the heavy increase in salaries granted to the political directorate continues to spiral.

Last Friday Holness welcomed Golding's announcement earlier that day that he will donate 80 per cent of the increase granted to him to people in need or to worthy causes.

Golding made the announcement at a media briefing at People's National Party (PNP) headquarters in St Andrew two days after his party stated its objection to the increases, reversing its initial acceptance of the salary hikes when they were announced in Parliament on Tuesday by Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke.

On Friday, Holness, speaking at the handover of a two-bedroom house under the New Social Housing Programme in Riversdale, St Catherine, said, "Those who have decided to give a part of their salary, I welcome them to the club. I have been doing this for a very long time. I have been in politics for more than 25 years and my record is clear. Giving is not new to me and I will probably be in a little better position and I will continue to assist, so without going too much into that conversation. I just wanted to welcome the leader of the Opposition to the giving club."

Prime Minister Andrew Holness addressing a ceremony for the handover of a two-bedroom house under the New Social Housing Programme, in Riversdale, St Catherine, last Friday. (Photo: JIS)

The comment drew a strong retort from Golding on Sunday.

"I hear him [Holness] a talk about me joining the giving club, but a mussi me start the giving club, because a years from me born me a give and me nah stop give till me dead," Golding told supporters at the PNP's Myersville Division conference in Nain, St Elizabeth.

"And I want to know how much of the multimillion-dollar award weh him get or weh him give himself is he going to spend to help the people," Golding added.

"I have committed because I don't feel comfortable to know [that] rank and file police officers, teachers, correctional officers, etc — even if them get what appears to be a big money — all of the allowances weh dem roll in to make that money deh fat, them tax the whole of that now, and when you take a stock, take-home pay weh dem get compared to before is just marginally higher," said Golding.

"They don't feel comfortable. They don't feel justified. Many of them feel demoralised, demotivated and all we know they have problem keeping good people in the public service — teachers, nurses, police officers, etc.

"The prime minister talk about him have to pay politician 200 and 300 per cent increase to get good people to come inna politics," he said, then questioned the rationale behind the level of increase.

"Since when yuh go inna politics fi mek money unless yuh thief? Since when yuh go into politics fi mek money unless you are a damn thief?" Golding asked, adding that the level of increase has caused widespread debate.

"This thing weh dem a gwaan wid nuh right and the whole of Jamaica react to it negatively, as they should, because what them decide to pay politician is way out of whack when you take a stock and compare it to how other regional peers of ours, other countries in the region — Bahamas, Barbados, Trinidad, etc — what they pay; we gone way above that," said Golding.

"… Poor Jamaica, a struggling country, we have one of the lowest GDP per capita in the region… Other countries that are far fatter and better off than we not paying the political class like that," he said.

"People fi earn a reasonable money, enuh, because you have to work hard to do your job, but it must be proportionate, it must be balanced, that is why we say equity we a deal with. We support the principle of equity and this Government nuh know nothing about equity," added Golding.

On Monday Holness, in response to heavy public backlash against the salary increases, announced that he will not accept the pay hike.

While arguing that there is need for an efficient compensation system that aligns compensation with effort and responsibility, Holness said that, nevertheless, it is important that the country is assured that its leader, symbolically and truthfully, understands citizens' concerns.

"As your leader, I do. Therefore, I have directed the Transformation Implementation Unit to remove the prime minister's compensation from the new salary scale. The prime minister's compensation will therefore remain at it's previous level. To be clear, no retroactive payments will apply to the prime minister's pay," he said at a news conference at Jamaica House.

BY KASEY WILLIAMS Observer staff reporter kaseyw@jamaicaobserver.com

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