MPs should not set their own terms

Editorial, Normal

PARLIAMENT cannot and must not set the terms and conditions of its own membership.
Neither should Parliament vote for disbursement of funds which are to be channelled through its members alone.
These powers or privileges must be disallowed by legislation.
That this happens today is a travesty and contrary to the principles of good governance, of fair and equitable distribution of the nation’s wealth and of an impartial legislature.
With the Speaker chairing the Salaries and Conditions Monitoring Committee (SCMC) which membership is mostly Parliamentarians, it is almost certain that decisions taken by this committee would most normally favour the Members of Parliament. And every decision has gone that way.
The same is true for approving discretionary funds for members. The fund began in 1982 with the humble allocation of K10,000 per electorate under the equally humble description: Village Service Scheme. This has grown in size until in this term Parliament has elected various amounts of between K2 million and K6 million so that in the last three years, Members of Parliament have each been given some K16 million. This is far more money than ever made available through the office of the Member of Parliament since Independence.
For some Members, the amounts available and actually drawn down would be far more than K16 million when one takes into account monies held under RESI, the National Agriculture Development Fund, and the various transport and infrastructure trust funds.
Members will always argue that K2 million is never enough to go around in their electorate, that they need K5 million or even K10 million. When that amount is arrived at, that too will never be sufficient. The upward spiral will just keep going and because it is up to Members of Parliament to elect themselves any amount they so please, the amounts will keep going up.
With the National Parliament setting the example, provincial legislatures are following suit so that today there are a fair size of the provincial budgets going to discretionary allocations to members. Amounts have gone from some K10,000 per provincial member to about K200,000 per member and the one provincial assembly has recently elected some K2 million per national electorate.
This situation was not always so.
The predecessor to the Salaries and Conditions Monitoring Committee was chaired by a judge with the majority on the committee being civil servants. At the time the terms and conditions of Parliamentarians was commensurate with those of the rest of society.
It is time that this unfair and quite illogical situation be arrested and bodies, including Parliament, should never choose or approve funds and the terms and conditions of service for their membership. It is only fair that this be so.
The Salaries and Conditions Monitoring Committee ought to be chaired by a retired Commonwealth judge or some other pre-eminent personage of that kind of stature. Its membership should comprise both public sector and private sector members. Indeed, if it is not too much the one committee should be responsible for setting the entire salary structure across the public sector and the private sector minimum wages.
The Salaries and Conditions Monitoring Committee might, at its absolute discretion, elect to set up superannuation and medicare schemes for Members of Parliament so that the health and future livelihood of Members are secured.
As for approving discretionary funds, a law should prevent Parliament from approving any kind of discretionary funds. No public money should be made available to members to use at their own discretion.
Parliament’s job is to make laws to benefit all, not just the law makers. Politicians are not service deliverers as we have stated numerous times in this space. They have neither the machinery nor the capacity to do so.
Under such circumstances, there is no compelling reason to continue diverting scarce public funds through the hands of politicians who are under tremendous pressure, as it is, to spend such funds in areas where there will be absolutely no benefit to the entire electorate nor the district and country.