12th October 1997

Look, who's well off?

MPs get a salary increase when the country is at war

Politicians richer - pensioners poorer
History of the hike

Despite protests from all quarters, the proposed salary increase for Ministers and Members of Parliament will shortly become operative, giving Parliamentarians a substantial increase of nearly Rs. l0,000 in their total monthly earnings.

With the recent proposal, there is strong criticism of legislators as "people preoccupied with their perks and privileges" while denying the same thing to the working class who badly need salary increases for survival, and wanting to be extravagant when the nation is at a decisive war. The public wrath is more as the revision would give them salaries equivalent to judges of various levels.

True, the increases have been rather irregular, but when they did come, they were quite substantial like Rs.2,000 in 1976, Rs.3,000 in 1988 and Rs.5000 in 1993. After six years, it is going be a handsome Rs. 10,000 increase.

Plan Implementation and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle has publicly announced that the increases were marginal, and considering the cost of living and other expenses borne by the MPs, it was only fair for their allowances to be enhanced. He also put his foot in the mouth when he added that there were irregularities in the salaries paid to legislators, which he sought to remedy.

This could be accepted as fair provided the PA during its three year rule has worked towards remedying the salary irregularities prevalent in various other spheres prior to embarking on a project on self service.

While we agree that certain allowances like the driver's and fuel allowances are inadequate, it is only fair to remind the Parliamentarian that there are many other perks they enjoyed, yet denied to others in public service.

The Minister's comments have been greeted negatively by certain PA coalition partners like the LSSP and CP calling an increase at this time "not opportune and callous." However, there are other sections in the government claiming that the increase was long overdue as they have waited for six long years to 'earn it'.

It has been reported that Tony Blair's recent annual pay hike of 14,37,860 Sterling Pounds and the US Congress paying themselves higher wages are used by the PA to justify its proposal.

The government has however conveniently overlooked the fact that each US secretary represents a segment of the American people larger than the entire Sri Lankan population and the example set by the Malaysian Cabinet taking a self-imposed 20% salary cut to set an example of sacrifice to the nation. This may be the reason why the frustrated voters are left to lament as to why the state spends so much, on so many and gain so little; despite the rhetoric on being the people's representatives.

The PA which pledged in its 1994 election manifesto to eliminate waste and curtail expenditure by limiting the number of Ministers to twenty in contrast to the Premadasa administration and utilise that for public welfare, is already spending 20 million rupees annually on the eight new Cabinet members including Mr. Fernandopulle. This is independent of the various other perks and privileges enjoyed by them, with the state footing the bills.

The sphere of local politics has drastically changed over the years. Until the formation of the State Council in 1931, politics was an honorary service. It was also a status symbol and men of integrity and ancestral wealth used politics as a medium to serve their constituencies without demanding salaries and allowances. (See Box)

A most significant decision was also taken to grant a pension to MPs just after five years of service, a single term in Parliament. According to the Parliamentary Pensions Scheme, an MP becomes entitled to a pension without a financial contribution from him. A member who has served only a single term receives 1/3 of his salary as his pension. Over 15 years of service entitled a member to 2/3 of the salary as his pensions. In addition, they also became entitled to all the salary increases effected in the public service.

In addition, a multitude of other facilities such as meals (including a la carte) at subsidized rates, free medical and postal facilities, tyres and tubes, two telephones and a cellular telephone, office equipment at concessionary rates. Train warrants are also provided to Members of Parliament.

There is a special hostel complex at Madiwela maintained for the exclusive use of Members of Parliament. The 120 houses were constructed exceeding to repeated requests made by rural-based MPs to the then government to resolve their difficulty in finding lodgings in Colombo. "Senpathi Nivasa" a nine roomed holiday home in Nuwara Eliya is also maintained by the state for the exclusive use of members and their families for which they pay a very nominal sum.

As regards staff, they each receive one clerk, two office assistants and two security personnel whose salaries are paid by the government.

The perks enjoyed by the Ministers have increased over the years with the changes in their life styles. In addition to a monthly salary of Rs. 24,000, Cabinet members are entitled to official residences, security and unlimited fuel.

Each. Minister is entitled to have a ministry secretary whose annual salary would amount to Rs. 249,900 and an additional secretary drawing Rs. 214,200 annually.

According to the recent Public Administration circulars, a Minister can have a Private Secretary (Rs. 79,380), a public relations officer (Rs. 64,440), a co-ordinating officer (Rs. 79,380) and three other coordinating officers for information, trade unions and parliamentary, affairs, each drawing an annual salary of Rs.79,380. In addition, they are provided with government vehicles for official use.

Further, they have one personal assistant (Rs.64,440), four stenographers (Rs.252,960), four typists (Rs. 252,960), nine drivers (Rs.413,000), six clerks (Rs.326,940) and four office assistants (Rs. I74,000).

The recent proposal by Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle seeks to increase the ministers and MPs salaries according to the 1998 proposal equalling the salaries drawn by primary court Judges while the ministers would draw a Supreme Court judges' salary.

The amounts that would be involved in the increase were never mentioned, but the recently approved salary scales for the judiciary give us an indication that the legislators are seeking a nearly double increase in their wages. According to the revision, the Chief Justice will draw an annual salary of Rs. 408,000, Supreme Court Judges and the Chairman of the Appeal Court a salary of Rs. 357,780 and Appeal Court Judges Rs.345,000.

However, a request for a brief interview in Parliament last Tuesday with Minister Fernandopulle on the subject, was not replied.

If these revisions are applied to members of parliament who enjoy a lot of perks and privileges denied to others, a minister would draw Rs. 34,000 monthly while an MP would receive Rs. 29,075.

In addition to all these, the MPs (except those who forego this privilege) also get their various permits out of which the most popular and profitable is the liquor permit.

In a fair assessment, despite the public disgust towards the parliamentarians, it appears the request for an enhanced driver's allowance and fuel allowance as justifiable. Rural based MPs have large constituencies to attend to, and this entails a lot of travelling. Also, taking into consideration the increasing cost of living, the driver's salary needs to be revised from the insufficient amount of Rs. 1,500 to something substantial.

As many MPs told the "Special Assignments" team, they can never find a driver for this payment. Most of them have their own drivers and pay them out of their pockets just to keep them. They also claimed that a cabinet decision was taken in July 1995 to increase the driver's allowance to Rs. 2,955 which was not implemented.

It is also true that unless they have substantial wealth, it is difficult to maintain their MP status and also help the constituents on a personal basis. Specially, the rural MPs are always called upon to help the people in the area, and this they cannot do without a proper income. Many MPs said that it would be unbearable to cope if they did not have personal wealth.

Apart from the running costs of Parliament, the state spends Rs.2,870,000 monthly to pay the 164 Members of parliament. There are 30 cabinet ministers and 31 deputies who collectively draw over Rs. 1,342,000 monthly. With the proposed increases, the state will spend the staggering sums of Rs.2,074,000 on the Ministers and Rs.4,768,000 on the MPs.

Meanwhile, some opposition MPs have decided to accept the increase for they cannot influence a cabinet decision, but not use the money on themselves as they believe it is morally incorrect to accept such a massive increase at present.

As they have no way of opposing the matter unless it is brought before parliament, they have agreed to utilise the money which comes with the increase on various minor development projects in their constituencies.

But the fact remains that these are the only people who could earn a pension after just five years of service, and this without a financial contribution by them. In contrast, those in the public service get a totally inadequate pension ranging from Rs. 3,000 to Rs 6,000.

In total contrast, those in the public service toil for many years and strive to obtain marginal salary increases (See Box).

The present monthly salary of a Ministry Secretary is around Rs 19,000 while an additional secretary, senior assistant secretary, grade I medical practitioners and those in parallel services draw around Rs. 18.000.

Despite dedicated and continuous service, finally when their salary problems were addressed by the B.C. Perera Salary Commission last year, the decision was to grant an 85% increase as a 100% increase appeared impossible due to the country's lack of financial resources.

So it was decided to give the increases to public servants, statutory boards, corporations and the armed forces in two stages. The first increase came into effect on 1.1.1997 which sought to pay 40% of the promised hike, the other 60% commencing in January 1998. Even this enhancement is more beneficial to the senior grades who would get about a Rs. 6000-7000 increase unlike the lower grades which would get an increase of about Rs.300-400 only.

According to those in public service, all other payments including eleven allowances paid to the top rankers in public service for a long time were abolished with the revisions.

All special payments made to those serving the office of the President, Prime Minister, Opposition Leader and the like were reduced to 1/3 and are paid according to the salary paid to them on 31.12.1996 and not according to the revised salary scales. However, three of these allowances are being paid only to medical practitioners on a special directive by the government.

Public servants earning over Rs. 15,000 have to contribute 2% of their wages for the Save the Nation Fund, while another 6% goes to the Widows and Orphans Pension. By circular SNC March 1997, those earning over Rs. 30,000 are made to pay 3%.

The vital question raised by the public servants is that while giving them increases, they are equally denied by the abolition of the allowance payments. They also do not enjoy the perk of getting duty free cars, an entitlement of all MPs and provincial councillors who can get vehicles every five years.

They have a legitimate question requested to allow the importing of a duty free vehicle as before, they are constantly turned down. When the question was raised in parliament last week, and Minister of Justice, Constitutional Affairs and Deputy Finance Minister G.L.Peiris informed the House that it was the UNP which brought in the restriction in 1994, and that the government had no intention of changing this decision. Instead the government in its infinite wisdom proposed to improve the transport system to facilitate the public servants to get to work.

It is also interesting to note that while the members of the judiciary spend many years on their education, take decades to climb up the ladder and qualify to receive such salaries, while those who claim to be the representatives of the people need no qualifications and are also able to rise in rank in no time.

The academics, professionals, service personnel, specialized services and the country's labour force have been demanding nominal salary increases for the last two years to no avail.

They have been gently discouraged, and told to practice austerity until the war is over.

Taking a cue from President Kumaratunga's recent speech that the Malaysian Cabinet's decision to have a self-induced salary cut putting the country's interest first, should not her cabinet of ministers and members of parliament also show sensitivity to the people and their true commitment to serve the nation by not seeking thumping increases when faced with a bloody war?

- Researched and written by Dilrukshi Handunetti

Politicians richer - pensioners poorer

As a pre-1988 pensioner, I was surprised to read the news item in a Sunday newspaper dated 07/09/1997. It is stated that the PA govt..is unable to pay the CoL arrears due to the aged pensioners.

What a pathetic state of affairs! CoL arrears is the pensioners' legitimate dues. The pensioners have contributed four percent of their salaries to the Widows and Orphans Pension scheme. (W&OP)

I for one, served for 37 years under various governments and retired on the Class I maximum on June 8, 1984. I am paid an all inclusive monthly pension of Rs 3756/- which is not sufficient to make ends meet. This money is not enough to meet the food bill.

On the other hand, the front page news of the "Sunday Divaina" states that salaries of Ministers and Members of Parliament are to be increased. The politicians are a privileged lot.

They are enjoying the best at the expense of the rate- payers and the nation. The PA govt. has conveniently forgotten that the pensioners gave their fullest support at the last General Elections. The present govt. has misadventured in politics.

J. Wickremasuriya,


History of the hike

It was Sir D.B.Jayatileke in 1931 who first proposed that legislators be paid a monthly allowance of Rs. 400. This was vehemently opposed by S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike who claimed that those rendering an honourary service should not take money for it, and that angry constituents would probably want to destroy the impressive State Council building with their own hands, a comment greeted with a flippant reply from Sir D.B.Jayatileke.

However, D.S. Senanayake and several others favoured the proposal, and finally in 1933, for the first time in the legislative history of Sri Lanka, MPs were paid a monthly allowance of Rs. 400 which continued to be effective for the next fourteen years. The necessity to revise this was taken up in 1947, and the allowance was increased to Rs.600 with another special payment of Rs. 75 being added on.

During the 1958 Bandaranaike regime, this was increased to Rs. 825 with a Rs. 100 allowance for a clerk and Rs. 50 per sitting being added.

Fifteen years later in 1973, this allowance was increased to Rs. 1,000. It was also decided to increase the clerk's payment from Rs. 100 to Rs.325 which was paid directly by the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs.

The revisions made in 1976 came in two occasions. First, the payment of Rs.50 per sitting was increased to Rs. 100. In November, nine additional allowances were also added to the package which totalled Rs. 3,645. Since 1978, all the allowances were exempted from taxes, and MPs also became entitled to all salary increases granted to public servants since 1977.

During President Jayawardene's period, the necessity to increase the allowance was discussed many times. But the revisions which also included new perks for the legislators finally came into effect only in 1985, increasing the payment to Rs. 7020. By this time, members were paid Rs.200 per Parliamentary sitting and Rs.200 for various Committee sittings barring Consultative Committee sittings for which were made.

From time to time, there were requests to increase Parliamentarians salaries according to the judiciary's scales. As the request gathered momentum, in 1988 it was decided to appoint a Cabinet Sub Committee to look into the subject of MPs' salaries and allowances.

As a result, in 1989, the legislators' salaries were raised to Rs. 10,000. District, Project and Deputy Ministers, Deputy Speaker and the Deputy Chairman of Committees received Rs. 12, 500 while Cabinet Ministers and the Speaker were paid Rs. 13,500. The Prime Minister's revised salary was Rs. 15,000.

The same year, the Minister of Trade and Shipping A.R. Munsoor recommended the provision of purchasing new jeeps to all 225 members of Parliament taking into consideration that MP's no longer were electorate-based, but had a district base which required them to travel more than before.

This recommendation gave priority to first time MPs, and they had to pay Rs. 8,000 monthly for the vehicle. At the end of the term of five years, they became entitled to own the vehicle by paying the balance money. They were also allowed to purchase certain necessary items at a concessionary rate.

Further, the MP's fuel allowance of Rs. 1,500 was increased to Rs. Rs.2,500, approximately 1 1/2 gallons per day. The second time elected became eligible to purchase a new vehicle on a 25% duty free permit under the financial ceiling of 25,000 dollars

The Rs. 450 monthly allowance paid for the driver was also increased to 1,500 and an entertainment allowance of Rs.250 was also included.

The current scales came with the 1993 salary revision, and the MPs' salaries shot up to Rs. 13,250. In addition, they received a monthly entertainment allowance of Rs.250, driver's allowance of Rs. 1,500 and a fuel allowance of Rs. 2,500 totalling Rs. 17,500. They were also paid Rs. 200 each time they attended Parliamentary sittings and sat on any Parliamentary Committee.

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