Prominent accountant and lawyer, Christopher Ram, believes that Government needs to admit that it erred in giving Ministers and Members of Parliament a salary increase. The increase ranges to as high as 50 per cent.
Writing in his online blog, chrisram.net Monday, the outspoken accountant also called for the increases to be reversed.
“Is there a way out? I think so. But Cabinet needs to admit that they have made a giant misstep. It is not too late to reverse the decision and have the National Assembly appoint an independent Compensation Committee to look into the question of compensation for Ministers, MPs and other political appointees.
“Indeed, this should be a permanent arrangement which prevents what is a clear conflict of interest for Cabinet members.”
But the analysis of the salaries was conducted by an independent authority in the person of Sandra Jones.
Ram, who is currently spearheading a number of forensic audits at State agencies for Government, argued that the terms of reference of such a committee should not be difficult to establish. A spokesperson said that Ram did not take the time to inform himself of the procedure.
The increases have angered citizens, drawing even criticisms from supporters who believed that the new David Granger administration should have waited and consulted.
Guyana only learnt of the increases after it was published in the Official Gazette last month.
Ram noted that the increases came five months after the Granger Cabinet took office, taking effect from July 1, “so that the increase was after less than six weeks the Ministers had been on the job.”
He also pointed out that it was Governance Minister, Raphael Trotman, who said there would be no astronomical increases.
But Ram himself has been at the centre of criticisms for accepting a whopping sum of money to conduct forensic audits. He voiced no objection then, one of his fellow critics said.
Ram, meanwhile, drew comparison to the budget of Finance Minister, Winston Jordan, for Government employees and pensioners.
In the budget, the minimum salary in the public service was increased from $42,703 per month to $50,000 per month, or 17.1%.
Ram said that the Cabinet clearly did not think that principle applied to them.
“It seems however, that no percentage, however egregious, can truly reflect the palpable outrage felt by citizens over the increase awarded to themselves by a Cabinet in office after less than half a year. This is not about bad optics, bad timing or bad politics as some are suggesting without any regard for the finances of the country.
“Unless the Government can transform the 2015 projected $50 billion deficit into a surplus, pay its public servants a living wage, and afford its pensioners some dignity, the increase will be as bad next year as it is now.”
The accountant pointed out that the unprecedented increase has been justified on some unusual grounds. That it was about wage-led growth; that Cabinet is made up of quality persons; the beneficiaries were earning more in their private practice; they deserve the increase; or the increase will stop them from thieving.
“The merit of each of these is not only arguable, it is dubious. The question for me is if the financial situation which confronted Cabinet when it took office was worse than thought, and which therefore prevented it from honouring commitments they made to voters, how come they can meet commitments they did not make?
“That is not the integrity and transparency which many thought would be the principles on which an APNU+AFC Government would operate.”
Ram went further. He said that he is willing to change his views. He invited Ministers of the Cabinet to make their tax returns public to show the kind of income they used to earn.
“And if that is indeed the case, why did they not tell us about their plan? And is there no element of public service to their work? And can they confirm that they have all shut shop and have given up their private businesses?”
Ram made it clear, also, that only three persons are statutorily permitted a tax-free salary- the President, the Chancellor and the Chief Justice.
“Anything else is illegal and even Cabinet cannot make it so. I respectfully recommend that they read the Income Tax Act and the Financial Administration and Audit Act.”
Ram also argued that when Ministers make their case for entitlement, they must not ignore the range of benefits which they receive at taxpayers’ expense- 24-hour security; all expenses paid vehicle and chauffeur; tax-free gratuity for their chauffeur; free electricity; free telephone; housing or housing allowance for Senior Ministers and the Attorney General, even when they live in their own homes; entertainment allowance when everyone knows the Ministers are the ones to be entertained; free crossing on toll bridges; no airport tax; generous leave and leave benefits; access to valuable medical benefits; and perhaps as valuable as all the other allowances put together- the right to duty exemption on a vehicle every three years.
“Oh, and these are not all. MP’s are paid an additional $20,000 per month for being a member of a Parliamentary Sessional Committee; an additional $25,000 per month as a Chairman or Deputy Chairman (sic) of such a Committee; and an allowance of $15,000 per month as a representative of a Geographic Constituency. Conservatively, these are easily worth another million per month.”
Ram also stressed that MPs earn a pension after four years while the average person has to work and contribute to the NIS for 15 years.
The Official Gazette report listed Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo’s salary as now $20,580,000 per annum, while the salary of every Vice-President was listed as $11,135,064.
Cabinet Ministers’ salaries went up to $10,439,124 per annum while the Junior Ministers were entitled to $8,346,492.
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