Waiting on MPs’ pay increases

Editorial, Normal

The National – Thursday, December 9, 2010

AT chapter 6 (legislature), (40), the constitutional planning committee provided its recommendations for a parliamentary salaries tribunal.
It wrote: “The salaries and allowances of members of parliament are frequently the cause of controversy.  Those in Papua New Guinea are no exception. 
“The authority to fix the salaries and allowances of our ministers and members of the house of assembly has been vested in the Australian minister for external territories, now the minister responsible for Papua New Guinea matters. 
“It was he who authorised last year’s increase in the salaries of ministers who were not members of the executive council, but he did so on the advice of the Papua New Guinea government. 
“This became the subject of acrimonious debate in the house.  It is largely to avoid this kind of situation that some countries establish independent tribunals to determine the remuneration of all parliamentarians, including ministers. 
“We believe this to be a desirable precedent for Papua New Guinea to follow.”
No debate, acrimonious or otherwise, was held when parliament decided unanimously, as the last act before giving itself a six-month holiday, to award its membership substantial increases in salary up to more than 50% of current base salaries.
No debate is needed where self-interest is concerned. Nobody, in his or her right sense, would elect to get forego a salary increase; much less get a salary cut.
And, so, the politicians, because they have the power, have wielded it with arrogant impunity to get more for themselves while the rest of society wallows in the doldrums of stagnant wages, of unpaid awards and of ever increasing costs of living.
Let it be known that this parliament, by this very act, has shown itself to be heartless and self-seeking and everyone of its membership, who professes to speak in the name of the “people”, is a pathetic hypocrite.
How can they not be when, on the day, they chose to ignore and defer important legislation pertaining to exclusive seats for women in parliament?
Women hold up the other end of the sky, a Chinese saying goes, and, in this country, the sky is collapsing.
How can they not be when awards for many public sector unions, from community health workers to national doctors, are outstanding and parliamentarians go ahead to indicate to this nation that their welfare is of far more importance than those of the workers?
How can they not be hypocrites when public servants are being paid K7 per fortnight in housing allowances while they get right proper royal treatment?
At the current rate, the public servant would have to be an ant to deserve housing at that price – to live in an empty can of tinned fish.
But, perhaps, the height of hypocrisy and idiocy is that this highest institution of democratic government, parliament, is vested with responsibilities which make it discriminatory, partial and is riddled with self-interest.
Until Sir Dennis Young became speaker between 1987 and 1992, salaries and conditions of politicians, judges and heads of departments were set by an independent tribunal.
When Sir Dennis was speaker, he presented a bill which changed the tribunal to the present salaries and conditions monitoring committee which made himself and all subsequent speakers as the head of the committee. And, then, the independence was gone.
Even if the arguments favour increases, it would always place parliament in a position of self-interest.
When the committee made its recommendation in its report in 1974, the committee called for a parliamentary salaries tribunal comprising three persons – a judge or magistrate (as chairman), a person experienced in salary or wage fixation and a member of the public services commission.  
The members of the tribunal were to be appointed by the National Executive Council following consultation with the general parliamentary committee for six years.
Aside from fixing salaries and conditions, the tribunal was to have powers to conduct commissions of inquiries and that a wages determination was to be made at intervals of four years but that could be halved to two years if parliament decided on an earlier review.
So, parliament was to be involved from a distance so that the tribunal was seen to be independent. That important distinction is gone and, with it, the credibility of parliament as a place where decisions are made in the interest of the people and not its own membership.