Fresh evidence presented to the Integrity Commission has prompted it to reopen an investigation into People’s National Movement Chief Whip Marlene McDonald.
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Cabinet sticks with SRC’s pay plan—PM
Cabinet has rejected the recommendations by the Parliamentary House Committee for significantly higher salary increases for MPs. Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar said so in an interview with reporters during Kiddies Carnival celebrations in Penal yesterday. The House Committee had recommended that MPs should be given special allowances, including a $15,000 duty allowance, in addition to the increases recommended by the Salaries Review Commission (SRC).
In its 98th report, laid in the House of Representatives last Friday, the SRC had recommended hikes of as much as 24 per cent for top office-holders, including the Prime Minister, Opposition Leader and Chief Justice. The proposed increases would take the PM’s salary from $48,000 to $59,860 and the Opposition Leader’s salary from $23,800 to $29,500. The new salaries, once approved, is expected to cost taxpayers over $74 million annually.
The SRC report also recommended higher salaries for the Chief Justice and members of the Judiciary, Senators, House Speaker, Deputy Speaker, Cabinet Ministers and non-Cabinet Ministers. Noting that the House Committee proposals put the salaries higher than those recommended by the SRC, the PM said the SRC was the legally constituted body to deal with salaries across the board.
“The matter will be taken to Parliament on Friday (tomorrow). We will stay within the law,” she said. “That is to say, what is recommended by the SRC.” However, a subsequent statement issued by the Office of the Prime Minister said Cabinet has rejected SRC proposals to remove the benefits currently being paid to office-holders, including MPs being exempted from paying import duty, VAT and motor vehicle taxes.
Several MPs felt the SRC did not recognise the realities of the “demands and the considerable time and effort required to serve at the parliamentary level. They argued that it was a full-time job.
The statement commented:
• “Higher levels of salary increases plus new duty, professional and housing allowances were proposed against what the House Committee said were compelling arguments, highlighting among other matters assessments with comparable private-sector jobs.
• “Cabinet noted it was mindful of the arguments made in the House Committee Report, including the fact that the last pay increases for MPs were implemented eight years ago.
• “In the last SRC review of 2008/2009 it was recommended and agreed by the then Cabinet to maintain existing salary levels.
• “Cabinet, however, pointed out that in view of the country’s present economic challenges and particularly the level of pay increases maintained for public service officers and even workers in the private sector, it agreed that it was not appropriate to implement the much higher levels of remuneration increases to top office-holders and MPs as suggested in the House report.
• “Further, Cabinet was advised that the Constitution and other laws ‘in very express terms protected the remuneration arrangements of certain office holders’ and therefore any proposed limitation the tax/duty exemptions will violate the Constitution.
• “In light of this, Cabinet decided that the existing benefits afforded for the purchase of motor vehicles will be retained.”