Oct 12, 2015 News
Political Activist and University Professor, Dr. David Hinds believes that government’s recent decision to increase the salaries for Members of Parliament (MPs) and Government Ministers will go down as its “second, big misstep.”
Dr. Hinds said that the decision should have been influenced by a number of crucial social factors. He said that the fact that it was not, suggests “political naivety, arrogance, insensitivity” or all of those.
He expressed this sentiment, among others, on his blog, www.guyanacaribbeanpolitics.com, under the heading, “Hinds’ sight.”
The 50 percent increases were published in the Official Gazette of September 25. The Prime Minister’s salary was listed as $20,580,000 per annum, while the salary of every Vice-President was listed as $11,135,064 per annum.
Cabinet Ministers’ salaries were listed as $10,439,124 per annum while the Junior Ministers were listed as receiving $8,346,492 per annum.
Dr. Hinds contended in his column that while those salary increases would not dent the Treasury, it is not the increase that is fueling the public outrage but rather, “the politics and the principle which underpin it.” He believes that there are three crucial factors at work.
He explained, “First, the government just gave poor people a reasonable but not spectacular salary increase. Second, thanks to the PPP’s track record in government, the issue of government as a source of unjust enrichment for Ministers has become part of popular rage against government. Third, the PPP is aggressively moving to silence its excesses while in government by pining them on the current government. These factors should have influenced the decision on the increases.”
The University professor said that what is worse is that the decision to increase the MPs salaries by 50 percent suggests that “in five months the government may already be out of touch with the realities of life on the ground.”
He continued, “Often it is not just what government does, but the manner in which things are done. My test on this issue is not the protest of the PPP—that protest is mostly grounded in the need to embarrass the government for doing what the now Opposition did when in government just a few months ago.”
“Rather my test is the protest of government supporters or those not deemed to be hostile to the government. Many of these people who welcomed this government with unprecedented enthusiasm are not happy about this move and are openly voicing their disapproval on social media and in the conventional media. Others, I am sure, are shaking their heads in dismay in their villages or in the privacy of their homes.”
The political activist said that Government should always tread carefully on sensitive matters such as a salary increase for MPs.
He said that while the salary increase is not a form of enrichment, it should not be surprising that the masses see it in that light.
“This is part of our doing; we on the government’s side correctly helped to sharpen mass distaste for government overspending. So coming so soon after the election when memories of the PPP’s behavior are still fresh, these salary increases are bound to excite negative responses. The increases should not have been pursued this early. But if the government felt pressed to do it now, it should have been done in small increments,” Dr. Hinds opined.
The University professor stressed that this is the second big misstep by the government, noting the first to be the initial naming of members to the State Boards.
He believes that the government has misread the feelings of its own supporters on these matters and opined that it is worrying.
“I have said before that one of the weaknesses of this government is its inability to ground more with the masses and consult more. If these were pursued more aggressively, the government would have known that these moves would not find favour with their supporters,” he expressed.
The social commentator added, “I am sure the government would recover from this blow, but the accumulation of these mistakes over time could alienate its supporters and further embolden the Opposition. I hope the government gets the message— “watch what you doing.”
Dr. Hinds noted in his column however that salary increases for political members of government are always unpopular among the masses and will always be.
He said that the people have seen too many politicians move from living ordinary lives to living like royalty when they get into government, hence they have always viewed salary increases for politicians with heightened suspicion.
Dr. Hinds said, “It is almost a contradiction—the very masses who lift the politicians up to the sky would rage when those same politicians raise their pay. So I am not surprised that the government has come under fire for this move from its own supporters.”
For him, the issue is not whether the salaries should be increased or not. Like all workers, he believes that Government Ministers in Guyana are underpaid.
“But of course, some workers are more underpaid than others. And Government Ministers do not fall into the latter category. But, if the truth is to be told, our Ministers’ salaries, even with this raise, are low compared to their counterparts in the rest of the Caribbean,” he concluded.
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