Pay up and shut up!

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It is now official! Every month, you will dig even deeper into your threadbare pockets to pay for the salary of parliamentarians. They have just happily agreed to a salary increase for themselves by themselves paid for by the ever-generous taxpayer. That is you and me!

They have also agreed, you will be pleased to know, to an additional Rs11 million to be spent on even bigger cars for members of our august assembly. This on top of the Rs35 million already allocated to them out of our pockets for this purpose. Maybe the gas-guzzlers their predecessors were flaunting on our roads are not showy enough for our new class of politicians. The class where a minister ranked no. 19 in the government hierarchy enjoys full security detail with a stream of bikers preceding his powerful German car whenever he is on transit in our island.

The privilege of chauffeur-driven cars and other freebies is not restricted to ministers but is also extended to a relatively new breed of parliamentarians created – out of the blue and without amending the constitution – in 1987 and which has survived since. This new breed is called Private Parliamentary Secretaries (PPSs). According to Former Chief Justice Victor Glover, this category of parliamentarians is unconstitutional. It is true that this government is not the only one to blame for this practice and that their predecessors kept the practice ongoing, on and off.

Unconstitutional or not, who cares about morality? The PPSs have a great deal: they enjoy most of the benefits of ministers and have a horde of civil servants literally working under them. While ministers have to go through permanent secretaries to relay information and orders to the civil servants, the PPSs, although they are members of the executive, give orders directly to civil servants. It is incongruous!

If you add to this the unprecedented travel l ing expenses of our parliamentarians, those of us who are clocking in 10 to 12-hour days in jobs where lack of productivity and results are hanging over our heads like a permanent Damocles sword, we can leg i t imately ask if our parliamentarians are working for at least a fraction of their salaries.

Here’s unfortunately the answer: PPSs do not ask or answer any questions in parliament. What they do during the weekly parliamentary sessions depends on their good will: they have a choice between a range of activities which they opt for at will: they can either play with their phone, answer their messages or choose instead to focus on their hair or nails. Failing that, they can disturb their neighbours or busy themselves talking about the guests in the VIP gallery.

Ministers, who draw an average monthly salary of Rs350,000 – Rs552,650 in the case of the prime minister – are also quite safe from futile issues like accountability, productivity and good governance. The backbenchers who are normally vociferous and require answers from ministers have seen their wings clipped by being asked to systematically withdraw any ‘embarrassing’ questions. Chief Whip Mahen Jugroo went to the extent of openly stating that backbenchers are not allowed to ask questions which embarrass the government! Why should a government be embarrassed if it is doing the right thing? And why would any minister who has nothing to hide refuse accountability? Above all, why should the taxpayer pay such huge salaries and increases to a class of politicians who systematically refuse to be accountable?

But shhh! You can’t criticise God, the monarchy or our politicians! Pay up, shut up or else!

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