TWO weeks from now the Ninth Parliament will be no more. A series of things will have happened.
On 8th September, Parliament will have been dissolved, ordinary MPs will have come back down to earth and be like one of us, leading a normal life.
The Executive Government that is, Cabinet though, would continue but only in a caretaker mode until the election is held. Everyone, including new intending candidates, will no doubt be on an election footing.
I have been reliably informed that had I not disclosed (in a recent newspaper article that) 29th October was the D-Day for the 2014 national general election, it was the date the government had on its mind all along.
As it is, the thinking by the boss is that the government wants to prove me wrong in predicting the date.
“It will be a day or two after October 29. This is just to prove you wrong. Until your article came out, October 29 was the day,” one insider confided in me a week or so ago.
The timing seems to augur well with the Solomon Islands Electoral Commission’s own timetable for releasing the final voter list, due out on 8th October.
That will be the final list to be used in the election under the Biometric Voter System (BVS) being introduced for the first time this year to clean up our voter system which has been corrupted by voters casting their votes more than once.
Some house-keeping matters would also be dealt withas the curtain is drawn on the walls and offices of parliamentarians. Some MPs might have already submitted claims for their Terminal Grants.
Among other things for example, all MPs would receive a golden handshake in the form of a terminal grant, which this week came up in discussions in the social media network, Forum Solomon Islands International (FSII).
Of late, Terminal Grants paid to MPs at the end of their term in office have actually gone through the roof.
It now costs taxpayers $20 million a term. In other words, each MP including Government Ministers expect to receive $400, 000 – a very handsome and generous golden handshake indeed.
From a mere $25, 000 a term in the late 90s, the increase to $400, 000 per MP in just over a decade is truly phenomenal. Some FSII members call it, unjustiable. They might be right, but hang on.
Politics, in my view, is really a seasonal job. It comes and goes. Unlike public servants, MPs don’t have any savings at all.
There is a provision in the Parliamentary Entitlements Regulations (PER) but I don’t know that the provision has ever been invoked.
It simply says that unless Members of Parliament are declared (by the Minister of Finance and Treasury) employees of the Government, they are by law not subject to the provisions of the Solomon Islands National Provident Fund (SINPF) Act.
That provision states that it is mandatory on employers to make a regular contribution on behalf of their workers to the SINPF.
The workers too are by law required to have certain percentage of their pay deducted and paid to the SINPF for their retirement.
So in all fairness, MPs did get out from Parliament with almost nothing. Certainly that was the case in my days.
Given what is coming out about the funds being made available to MPs today and indeed the salary increases granted to politicians in recent years, the situation appears to have substantially changed.
For statistics buffs, here’s a little comparison to digest. In my time (1997 – 2005), the basic salary for an ordinary MP was just SBD37, 000 a year.
Today it is about SBD118, 000 with a lot more perks and prestige that goes with it. A minister’s salary in my time was just SBD$40, 000 compared with SBD145, 000 a year today.
The Prime Minister’s was SBD55, 000 a year. Today it is about SBD168, 000 per annum.
The magnitude of the problems faced by MPs today is that their electors expect rather unreasonably a portion of their salaries to be shared. This has denied the politician’s family monetary benefits, which is intended for the family.
In terms of the SINPF, MPs could choose to make voluntary contributions to the SINPF out of their fortnightly salaries. Just how many had taken up that option is not clear.
That really is the lot of an MP. That too, however, is not an excuse to account for tens of millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money that they receive and administer on behalf of the constituency they represent.
Unfortunately, that is not being done at the present time.
So are the accusations and counter-accusations of alleged misuse of public funds and the expectations by voters that their MP share his salary with them, reasonable?
By Alfred Sasako