MEMBERS of Parliament are now enjoying tax free salaries as of April 1 this year.
Parliamentary Entitlements Commission (PEC) awarded the tax free benefits to MPs under recent changes it made to MPs entitlements.
That’s beside the tax free $400,000 terminal grant each MP gets after a term in parliament.
Under recent awards, MPs’ discretionary fund was also increased from $300,000 a year to $500,000.
In addition, basic salaries of MPs have been increased by 3.5% backdated to April 2014 and 4% from this April onwards.
Transparency Solomon Islands (TSI) yesterday described the MP’s tax free salary as “a first in the developing world”.
It estimated that the Government will lose about $2.2 million each year from tax on MPs’ salaries.
Meanwhile, TSIis calling on the government to remove Members of Parliament (MPs) in the composition of the Parliamentary Entitlement Commission (PEC).
Executive officer Daniel Fenua said they understand that under the Constitution, the Minister of Finance (MOF) and Chairman of Public Accounts Committee (PAC) are ex officio Members of PEC.
“But we are so concern that PEC has no real independence from MPs and the government of the day.The PEC likes to think that it is independent but it is not,” Mr Fenua said.
He said despite strong objections by TSI and other stakeholders to the recent changes when the draft was circulated last year, the PEC went ahead and made those changes anyway.
“The PEC can never be independent because it includes two MPs so conflict of interest will be ever present in the decision-making of PEC,” Mr Fenua, said.
On Friday last week, the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Rick Hou raised the issue of conflict of interest.
Mr Fenua said TSI agrees with the conflict of interest that exists simply by having the two MPs as part of the Commission, that is the Minister of Finance and the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee.
“This means that Snyder Rini and Rick Houare current ex officio members of the PEC and no doubt had a say in the questionable changes highlighted above.
“TSI finds it rather hypocritical for MrHou to participate in this year’s amendments to the PER then raise the issue of conflict of interest.
“His recent comments on this issue are even more questionable if one recalls that he was the Minister of Finance who was accused by the PEC last year as being responsible for the controversial increase of the terminal grant for MPs from $100,000 to $400,000.
“The concern raised need to be seriously addressed.
“Hou’s comments highlight an issue that must be addressed. It is simply wrong and against best practice to have two MPs on the PEC determining MPs’ entitlements,” Mr Fenua said.
He said TSI wants the government to take into consideration the issue of independence of the PEC and facilitate constitutional amendment to remove those 2 ex officio members of the PEC and replacing them with independent positions.
Comments are being sought from PEC chairman Johnson Siapu.
By AATAI JOHN