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President of the Senate Timothy Hamel-Smith says parliamentarians deserve a pay hike. Addressing the issue of recent recommendations yesterday for increases made by the Salary Review Commission (SRC), Hamel-Smith said he agreed with them, saying the current salaries earned by parliamentarians was not a “living wage.” “We really treat our parliamentarians as doing part-time service,” Hamel-Smith said at a luncheon hosted by the Port-of-Spain Rotary Club at Goodwill Industries, Fitz Blackman Drive, Port-of-Spain.
Delivering the feature address on constitutional reform at the event, he listed some of the parliamentary roles, including a ministerial portfolio, service in the Cabinet, participation in Cabinet and Parliamentary Committees, review and approval of legislation and duties as constituency representatives. “I don’t know if any of you understand or appreciate the amount of time that has to be spent in order to satisfy your constituents,” he told the gathering.
He said the way the Cabinet was structured effectively set members up for failure in one or more of the roles they had to perform. “If you are a minister and you are in the House of Representatives, you have about seven roles to perform,” he added. He said it was easy to change the Constitution in a fundamental way to allow the Cabinet to perform effectively, as all that was required was a simple majority which would change the way ministers were chosen.
“So that we can get at the end of the day efficient and effective government, achieving the kind of service you demand and we deserve in T&T,” Hamel-Smith said. The change would allow members to have time and energy to focus on policies which could transform the country, he added.
The 98th report of the Salaries Review Commission (SRC) was laid in the House of Representatives last Friday. Recommendations for pay hikes by as much as 24 per cent were outlined for most of the country’s top office-holders, including the Prime Minister, Opposition Leader and Chief Justice.
The proposed increases would take the Prime Minister’s salary from $48,000 to $59,680 and the Leader of the Opposition’s from $23,800 to $29,590. The proposed 24 per cent increase in basic salaries to top public officials is expected to cost the State over $74 million annually. There has been mixed reaction to the recommendations, with some sectors of the public saying the increases were not deserved while others were in support.
Yesterday, Hamel-Smith said that was due in part to how the public viewed the work of parliamentarians. “We don’t recognise being a parliamentarian is a full-time job,” he said, adding more individuals who could serve on committees were needed in Parliament. “So you either want a professional Parliament or you continue to struggle in the way we struggle, by not having sufficient people and by not paying them what they deserve,” he added.
When asked about current wages, Hamel-Smith said: “Sure, if you ask me if it sufficient, I would tell you it’s sufficient, if I have a part-time job. “If you want me to work whole time, 100 per cent of my time, dedicated to parliamentary work, then there is no way that salary could be...” he said, stopping short. Hamel-Smith said with all the clashing functions, committees could not perform because quorums were not met.
He added that poor performance was not the result of unwillingness to work but because there were multiple functions which “no one person can ever perform satisfactorily, therefore you are geared for failure.” To address this, Hamel-Smith suggested the use of party lists. “The Prime Minister can be required to choose her ministers from the party lists, from the Senate, and from the House of Representatives.”
“This means if all ministers were not chosen from Parliament, there would be more room for committees to perform,” he said.
Hamel-Smith also questioned whether our electoral system was truly democratic, saying under our current first past the post system, there could be unfair representation against a sizeable minority. “Since 1981, you find 20 per cent of the electorate voted for a political party that wins no seat in Parliament. And you want to say that is democracy and it produces proper representation.”
He said almost a quarter of the population was unrepresented in Parliament and therefore had no possibility of having an impact on government policies. He said our current winner-take-all system hindered T&T’s development.
Proposed SRC increases
Position Existing Salary Recommendation
1 Chief Justice $909,720 $1,193,680
10 Justices of Appeal @$762,720 $7,627,200 $1,039,960 $10,399,600
29 Puisne judges @$717,120 $20,796,480 $983,320 $28,516,280
Sub total $29,333,400 $40,109,560
1 Prime Minister 617,100 $749,480
1 Attorney General $557,550 $673,220
33 Cabinet ministers@$526,500 $17,374,500 $636,230 $20,995,590
2 Non-Cabinet ministers@$475,200 $950,400 $572,420 $1,144,840
Sub total $19,499,550 $23,563,130
1 Senate President $367,500 $447,270
1 House Speaker $372,300 $453,030
1 Opposition Leader $395,100 $481,110
1 Deputy Speaker $197,700 $240,000
15 MPs@$191,400 $2,871,000 $232,170 $3,482,550
1 Vice President $196,500 $237,840
29 Senators@$158,700 $4,602,300 $190,860 $5,534,490
Sub total $9,002,400 $10,876,290
TOTAL $57,835,350 $74,548,980