When the topic of raising salaries for parliamentarians rolls around every couple of years the livid public response is a stark reflection of how derided the public’s representatives are by the very people who vote them into power. This duality exists for the simple reason that the public feels lawmakers have failed to justify their upkeep on the taxpayer dime and it is disappointing that a transparent payment mechanism has not been established for Parliament members.
The Parliament as the foremost law making body in the country should lead the way in professionalism. However, when salary increases are proposed they are either implemented or simply postponed with little or no effort to understand how perks and payments are dished out. It is essential to get a sense of the numbers to demand better performance and professionalism from parliamentarians.
When the same issue cropped up in November 2016 JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake at the time raised a question in the House demanding a breakdown of salary and other payments of parliamentarians but ministers gave no clear answer. Two years later nothing has changed with reports indicating that MPs get paid about Rs. 200,000 each month inclusive of perks, yet these are all estimates and there are no concrete numbers. 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.
Still others are given ceremonial positions or their closeness to centres of power give them access to additional income. Not only are these earnings tax-free, parliamentarians, even after one stint, are given a lifelong pension.
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 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.
Singapore has stringent KPI indicators for its top public officials, which are rigorously implemented and enforced. Parliamentarians can have higher salaries provided they are independently evaluated for performance.
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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