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MPs and perks


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Every few years the issue of increasing salaries for parliamentarians throws up a storm of controversy, so much so that when it was proposed last time the Government decided to postpone it. However, this has never stopped the flow of luxury vehicles and other perks to favoured politicians and this week the Government made way for annual free postal facilities given to MPs to be doubled. 

The Cabinet paper was presented by Postal Services and Muslim Religious Affairs Minister M. H. A. Haleem under which the annual free postal facilities given to MPs were increased to Rs. 350,000 from Rs. 175,000 while the amount given for Provincial Council members was increased from Rs. 24,000 to Rs. 48,000. The Cabinet paper was passed on 16 January 2018 and MPs will be paid the backlogged amount as well. This effectively is a Rs. 4.2 million windfall for each parliamentarian, which is far above the salaries of most average professionals. 

Given the advancement of technology, the very fact that politicians at Parliament and Provincial Council levels have to be given a free postal facility is laughable. The fact that it is done with public money makes it a matter of less levity. The bigger problem, of course, is that there is no transparency in what parliamentarians or politicians of other rungs are paid and this is not freely accessibly to the public. It is essential to get a sense of the numbers to demand better performance and professionalism from parliamentarians.

When questions were raised in Parliament on how much ministers and parliamentarians got paid in 2016 and in 2018, there were no clear answers. Reports indicate MPs get paid about Rs. 200,000 each month inclusive of perks, yet these are all estimates and there are no concrete numbers. The estimates vary from Rs. 500,000 to a few million. The varied and convoluted system of salaries, allowances, house rent, insurance, the provision of support staff, security, phone and other payments are largely unknown. This is worse among parliamentarians who are ministers or hold other official positions within the State. 

Usually the only time parliamentarians are slammed is when the allocations of duty free vehicle permits do the rounds. Yet economists have repeatedly pointed out the Government has to get on track its own spending, not just in what gets haemorrhaged from corrupt deals and loss-making State Owned Enterprises (SOEs), but on what is spent on the Diyawanna members. Not only is this a gross transgression of public trust it also breeds corruption and wastage.

Further salary hikes and perks for parliamentarians cannot be justified unless the public clearly knows what is already being paid. Since the Sri Lankan Government is fond of modelling itself on Singapore it can follow the Lion State in this respect very easily. Singapore is well-known for paying some of the highest salaries in the world to its civil servants and politicians but it also has a one-strike policy regarding corruption, which brings us to the second point. Not only should parliamentarians be well qualified to be given a transparently accounted salary, they should then be held to the highest of professional standards.

Under the current system even members that are not elected and barely deign to attend Parliament can avail themselves of perks and vehicles worth millions of the public’s money. Such an unfair and archaic system must end and parliamentarians, like all other hard working citizens, must earn their keep.


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