What about us?
MPs demand information about their new compensation package

Members of Parliament are not pleased that they have been awaiting information on what their salaries will look like in the new compensation scheme for the public sector, which will see employees of central ministries receiving billions in back pay and new rates this month.

At the same time, there is a plea from the Opposition for the Government to beef up the salaries of MPs' drivers, and for their secretaries to be made pensionable.

"It is unfair for members within the House not to be able to know the scale or where they're going to end up — better off or worse off. They're only taking the word of the minister that we will be better off, but that can't carry to the market or carry home. The absence of knowing where on the scale within the civil service that parliamentarians are going to fall is somewhat having them at a disadvantage in how it is that they plan their own affairs," Mikael Phillips, chairman of the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC), argued in the House of Representatives on Wednesday afternoon.

The issue was raised after the PAAC presented its report to the House on Wednesday morning's discussion of the second supplementary estimates with the finance ministry.

St Catherine Southern MP and PAAC member Fitz Jackson argued in the House, "The fact of the matter is that if you hide from it or dodge it, you still have to deal with it. It's best to be up front, be transparent, because the MPs can't be compensated privately, or secretly. Get it out there early, let the discussions start, and so it can be dealt with."

At a previous Standing Finance Committee meeting on the first supplementary estimates, Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke had asked parliamentarians to hold strain while the Government settles arrangements with the central ministries, before moving to the political directorate.

The MPs also urged a review of the compensation paid to their drivers.

"We know that the adjustment for drivers who work seven days a week is not going to be linked to the drivers within the wider public sector, and they, too, would like to know the scale," said Phillips, who represents Manchester North Western.

"Rural MPs who have drivers, many of them drive themselves to Kingston because they have to put up those drivers overnight out of their own pocket. Many, if not all members of parliament, have to find an extra sum [to put] on that poor salary that those drivers have," said Phillips, who had also, during the PAAC meeting, made a case for MPs' secretaries to become pensionable after a specified period.

He said he had a secretary who had worked with him for seven years and had also served his predecessor for 20 years. However, when she died all that was awarded to her estate was the $90,000 funeral grant from the National Insurance Scheme.

"It is a shame. The recommendation is — just like MPs who after two terms become pensionable — that the secretaries, once they are there for that same period of time, ought to become pensionable," he urged.

Minister of Legal and Constitutional Affairs Marlene Malahoo Forte said, while she was displeased that the parliamentary group was still in the dark, the reform had been a challenging one, and she trusted the finance minister's judgement.

"I really hope this is the last time we find ourselves in this position. As much as I trust the minister, I really understand the sentiment that we shouldn't be here where we don't know. I want the minister to know that notwithstanding that he enjoys our trust, we are still not very pleased at this stage and we hope that sooner than later this matter of our remuneration will be settled," she said.

House Speaker Marisa Dalrymple Phillibert voiced her support, and that of all parliamentarians, for the recommendations for drivers and secretaries to be considered.

"I hope I will sit here when all parliamentarians, on both sides of the House, will openly and unreservedly agree when it comes to the salaries of parliamentarians, because Jamaicans, by and large, think that MPs are awash in Government funds, which, by and large, is not so, and Jamaicans do not recognise that the job of a parliamentarian never ends," she stated.

Dr Clarke assured the House that drivers are at "the top of the list" for better compensation, which, he said, would be significant.

BY ALPHEA SUMNER Senior staff reporter saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

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