JIS News

The House of Representatives yesterday (Tuesday Nov. 22) approved a motion establishing a special Select Committee to review the recommendations of the Clarke Committee on pay and conditions for Members of Parliament.
National Security Minister, Dr. Peter Phillips who moved amendments to the resolution said a report was to be made to the House on or before January 31, 2006.The adjustments were agreed on following the debate in the chamber during which several proposals were made by Opposition Leader, Bruce Golding concerning the recommendations made in the Clarke Report.
Dr. Phillips said the amendments to the resolution to establish the special select committee would provide an opportunity to reconcile the variety of views expressed and emerge with a position that could meet the interest of everyone involved, including the public.
Mr. Golding during his contribution to the debate, which was initiated in the House last week by Prime Minister P.J Patterson, said the issue of remuneration for Parliamentarians had remained a “very sensitive and volatile issue.”
He said the challenge was to ensure that whatever decisions were made reflected justice to House members and tax payers. He however, noted that whatever the final decision, persons would still have different views.
The Opposition Leader in commending the work of the Clarke Committee said there were still dissatisfactions as it had been hoped that the Committee would have found a way to bring some certainty and finality to the issue of remuneration for MP’s, which would command general acceptance.
Mr. Golding noted that it had been hoped that a framework would be established, which would ensure that the periods of delay in making adjustments to parliamentary salaries were eliminated, and that the Committee would have found a way to ensure that the periodic adjustments made were based on clear objective criteria and, “were reasonable and conscionable and tolerable in the eyes of the public”.
“Sadly the report of the Clarke Committee and the recommendations they have made has failed to do this,” he told the House.
Furthermore Mr. Golding said the recommendations made by the Committee for salaries were confusing and contradictory. He further noted that there was a disparity between recommendation six in the report for an annual automatic adjustment based on the rate of inflation for the country effective from April 2004 and recommendation three, which calls for an external committee to review salaries every two years.
“The two recommendations can’t coexist, why would you need a salaries committee, you wouldn’t need one,” he argued. Mr. Golding said if an annual automatic adjustment was agreed upon, a parliamentary salaries committee was not necessary. Furthermore he said the “suggestion about linking the salaries to inflation was absurd”.
On the matter of the Clarke Committee’s recommendation that there be no retroactivity, Mr. Golding said it was still not clear whether outstanding tranches would be applied.
He however pointed out that it could not be applied as the public sector wage freeze took place over the two periods in question. “If we are holding the public sector workers to zero increase for those two years then the tranches that would have been due to us in those two years, we can’t take them,” he told the House.
Mr. Golding also called for further clarification as to when the salaries would be adjusted. He said even though Parliamentarians had not fared as well as some public sector workers over the last 15 years, at this point the current salaries were not so badly off as to make adjustments now, but could be done at the expiration of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in April of next year.
Where future proposals for adjustments were concerned the Opposition Leader said, “we should never seek to be more generous to ourselves than circumstances allow us to be to those over whom we have charge”.
“We want to support the position that has been taken that there will be no retroactivity, and seek from the Government the clarification that we are not now proposing any increase whatsoever,” Mr. Golding stated.
He further proposed that future adjustments to parliamentary salaries be adjusted by an amount equivalent to the weighted average of public sector salary adjustments.
“What that would do is that for the first time we will be able to say to the public that we are not getting any special increase for ourselves.I believe that would put this issue once and for all beyond the reach of controversy,” Mr. Golding said.
He also recommended that the Speaker of the House be moved to the same rank as a Cabinet Ministers and remunerated on the same basis, “we owe it to Parliament to do that,” he stated.
In response to the recommendations for a new parliament building, Mr. Golding said the need could not be disputed as the current facilities were inadequate but said he was not in support of having the building relocated given the rich history of its current location. He suggested that the present location and immediate surroundings be acquired to erect the proposed new facility, and proposed that a competition be mounted to invite Jamaican architects to submit designs for the type of building envisioned.
In his response Minister Phillips said it was obvious that there were a number of issues, which needed further dialogue to arrive at a consensus with regard to the remuneration rates for the various allowances, public disclosure and the role of an ethics committee among others.
It was then proposed that the amendments to the resolution to establish the special select committee to be adopted.
The Clarke Committee was set up to review the work of Parliamentarians and make recommendations in respect of salaries, allowances and their terms and conditions of work.
In 2003 when salaries of Ministers and Parliamentarians were adjusted in line with Permanent Secretaries, as was the prevailing practice, there was intense public debate about the issue. Prime Minister P.J. Patterson made the decision to establish a committee to review the formula for awarding increases in salaries and emoluments to Parliamentarians.
The resolution was laid on the table of the House in November 2003 and a parliamentary group was established to examine the comprehensive report of the Clarke Committee and make recommendations to Cabinet.