MINISTER of Finance Dr Nigel Clarke Tuesday moved to clarify reports of a more than 170 per cent increase in the stipend to be paid to senators who are not members of the Cabinet.
On Tuesday, reports surfaced that Clerk of the House Valrie Curtis had written to senators indicating that their stipend would be increased from $53,000 per sitting of the Senate to $148,000, retroactive to April 1.
But in a mid-afternoon release Clarke said while he was aware of media reports about a proposed increase in the senate stipend, which referenced a letter from Curtis, this would not be done.
"I wish to make it clear that these increases will not be implemented. As such I have asked the financial secretary [Darlene Morrison] to write to the clerk with instructions to rescind her letter of September 14, 2023," said Clarke.
He noted that the correspondence from the clerk followed from a Cabinet decision of 2008 that automatically indexed the stipend of the senators to twice the highest fee paid for service as a board director on a public body board.
The finance minister pointed out that immediately prior to this 2008 decision, senators were being paid $1,000 per meeting and the highest public body board fee was $6,000 per meeting.
"When public body board fees were last increased in 2019, Senate stipends were automatically adjusted as per the 2008 Cabinet decision and these took effect on April 1, 2020. Shortly thereafter, as minister of finance and the public service, I met with a bipartisan group of senators to discuss this Administration's view of the unsustainability of this automatic peg and the likely unintended consequences.
"Among other things, I used the opportunity to outline the position of the Administration that the Senate stipend would remain unchanged, even with further upward adjustments of board fees, while a new basis for determining Senate stipend adjustments is finalised," said Clarke.
The statement from the finance minister came hours after Leader of Opposition Business in the Senate Peter Bunting released a letter that he had dispatched to Curtis indicating his team's displeasure with the increase.
According to Bunting, the Opposition senators were concerned about, "the size of this increase, its timing, and its obvious insensitivity to the current national context".
Bunting added: "We firmly believe that such a significant increase in stipend for senators is neither justifiable nor appropriate, particularly at a time when crucial issues affecting essential public servants — such as police officers, health care workers, and teachers — remain unresolved.
"The nation is closely observing the Government's approach to addressing these critical matters, and such a substantial increase for senators appear out of touch with the realities faced by the rest of Jamaica."
The Opposition senator argued that in the interest of preserving public trust and confidence, the decision should be reconsidered.
"We urgently request a reconsideration of this decision. We propose that these funds be reallocated to areas where they can make a more immediate and positive impact on the lives of the citizens we all serve. We kindly ask you to convey our position to the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service," said Bunting