The announcement by Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness last night that he has declined his huge salary increase, for now, demonstrates the power of resolute resistance to an incredibly tone-deaf policy.
The response by Prime Minister Holness is appropriate, given the sense of outrage and disgust felt by vocal members of the public who have been burning up radio call-in programmes and social media platforms expressing their feelings.
To take just one example, last Tuesday’s announcement by Nigel Clarke, Jamaica’s Minister of Finance and the Public Service, proposed a tripling of the salary of the Jamaica Prime Minister from J$9.16 million before April 2022, to J$28.7 million in April 2024. In US dollar terms, the salary of the Jamaica PM was about US$60,000 a year up to March 2022 and in April 2024, it was proposed to be about US$187,000.
In terms of comparisons, the 98th Report of the Salaries Review Commission issued in November 2013, states the current salary of T&T Prime Minister, Dr Keith Rowley, is $59,680 a month, which is $716,160 (US$106,100) a year. That does not include the duty allowance of $8,860 or the transportation allowance of $6,660 a month he receives, as well as other perquisites.
But, as Dr Rowley told a meeting of the ruling People’s National Movement (PNM) in Arima in May 2022: “For the benefit of the media who speak to the public, let me tell you what the facts are: The last time Members of Parliament (MPs) and ministers got a pay increase was March 2014, from the November 2013 recommendations of the 98th Report of the Salaries Review Commission (SRC).”
So, like T&T teachers, MPs and Cabinet ministers in this country live on their 2014 salaries.
But while many members of the T&T Cabinet are no doubt feeling the pinch of not having a salary adjustment in the almost eight years the PNM has been in office, they should feel grounded with their brothers and sisters in the public service who have also felt the pinch of high inflation.
It would be quite imprudent for the Government to seek Jamaican-style salary increases at this time, given its insistence that public servants receive salary increases of no more than 4 per cent.
The Jamaica template is based on the premise that the salaries of MPs have been benchmarked to those of senior public servants for decades. An adjustment of the compensation of senior public servants, therefore, means an adjustment to the salaries of MPs and Cabinet members.
But even if the now-tottering Jamaican template were adopted in T&T, our local political class would only receive a 4 per cent increase...and for the same period negotiated by the Chief Personnel Officer (CPO) with public sector trade unions.
But it is clear from its 98th report that the SRC is not obliged to follow the lead of the CPO with regard to those public officers under its remit.
February 2012 was the last time T&T’s President conveyed approval for the SRC to undertake a general review of salaries and other conditions of service of holders of office within its purview.
While a new SRC look at salaries is appropriate, it is important that that body recognise “it is imperative that we spread the burden of adjustment across the society,” to quote Minister of Finance Colm Imbert in the 2017 budget.