Member of Parliament for the Constituency of St. George North East, Tobias Clement is clamouring for an increase in the $1200 a month salary Parliamentarians are currently receiving dating back to 1999.
Clement is for the second consecutive term of the ruling New National Party (NNP) government operating without an assigned Ministry from Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell.
Speaking at the 1st session of the 10th Parliament held at the Grenada Trade Centre on Tuesday, the outspoken Parliamentarian lamented that it is unfair for MPs to be given a mere $1200 a month and in return give proper representation to their constituencies.
Clement recalled addressing the issue at a press briefing in 2016 as he sought to compare the US$5000.00 a month salary he was receiving at St. George’s University (SGU) and that of a minister’s salary which is less than US$300.00 a month and not corrected for the past 19 years.
“Mr. Speaker, I took real blows for that because I spoke the truth. Mr. Speaker, on the books of the budgetary document you would see Ministers are paid $67,000 a year – just over $5000 with other benefits and Mr. Speaker when I spoke to the media at a certain time, it was that I was talking about … the pay of a Minister in Grenada”, he said.
“…Mr. Speaker, the member for St. George North West (Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell) said that I would not be paid or backbenchers (would not be paid) the salary of a minister, so I will get the salary of a parliamentarian. Mr. Speaker, as I sit here in this house and serve the Parliament of our country, on the books, it is $1200 a month…”, he added.
According to Clement, he is taking a stand for this low salary issue for MP’s to be corrected and become a thing of the past as there are many MP’s who are suffering but are afraid to speak out in the open.
“Mr. Speaker, when I serve in this house, it is not about the monies … but, as I said to them (government) before that if we want to recruit the best and the brightest to serve our country, those who live by the sword, they say you should die by the sword, if you preach the word too, you should live by the word…”, he said.
“… Mr. Speaker, you know I remember the member from St. Andrew North West (Delma Thomas), she said to me that by the middle of the month she has to dig in her son’s little piggy bank. The former member for St. Patrick’s East (Clifton Paul) said to me, ‘when I pay my house mortgage and my car mortgage, I have $600 left and I am the MP for the area”, he added.
Clement went on: “Mr. Speaker compare Grenada to the rest of the OECS countries or the rest of the Windward Islands and let us make a change because my colleagues here would be clamouring for it … but they would not say a word, they would not say a word. Which one of you today would stand up and support me, maybe none but, which one of you would say no let us leave it as it is”.
In a very sarcastic manner, the St. George’s North-east MP stated that maybe there should be a Union representative to address such issues on behalf of Parliamentarians.
Member of Parliament for St. Patrick West, former Education Minister Anthony Boatswain, who is now a backbencher in Parliament for the first time since 1999 stood up and gave support to the issue raised by Clement.
The ex-government minister said that although it is unfair for a Parliamentarian to receive the same salary as a Minister, he felt that such a member of Parliament should be given more than $1200.00 a month.
“I believe there is a fundamental injustice in what Parliamentarians receive, and again this is a historical defect that must be remedied because in the past, once you are re-elected, automatically, you become a minister and you get a minister’s salary and then they put aside a little thousand dollars for parliamentarians. Can one expect a parliamentarian to survive on a thousand dollars a month? That was an error and we have never corrected that error”, he said.
Boatswain told the sitting that Parliamentarians who have to represent their people at the constituency level cannot survive on a $1000.00 a month but at the same time should not be getting the same salary as a minister.
“I don’t think it is right but there must be something that will allow you to perform your duties as a Parliamentarian, representing your people because they still come to you – they want a cylinder of gas, they want assistance, your party in government … but what will you give them on if you don’t have another job…”, he said.
“… We never corrected that Mr. Speaker because everybody who was elected ended up in the Cabinet”, he added.
According to Boatswain it is a fact that every elected Member of Parliament cannot sit in the Cabinet but something should be done to pay more to those who are on the outside.
“You cannot expect everybody to be in a Cabinet and we have said that before and … you are not elected to be in Cabinet, being in Cabinet is at the prerogative of the Prime Minister, he could decide who he wants in his Cabinet and no one should argue who the Prime Minister decides to put in his Cabinet, that’s his right…
“But at the same time we must recognise that as an elected representative, you cannot expect them to be out there as a beggar and say you get a $1000 a month and not knowing whether he has another job. How can he survive on that? We have to correct that Mr. Speaker and I think we are taking too long to correct that Mr. Speaker.
Within minutes of the presentations in Parliament on the issue by MPs Clement and Boatswain, Prime Minister Mitchell took the floor and announced that a committee will be established by government to review the salaries of all Parliamentarians and Ministers.
“I therefore wish to inform the members, the nation that I have announced to the Cabinet already that we intend to appoint a three member committee of a top public servant, a member from the business community and the representatives from the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) to review the salaries of all Ministers and Parliamentarians accordingly and to make recommendation to the Cabinet and by implication to the Parliament of the country to correct this problem because it is in fact a serious problem”, he said.
Dr. Mitchell indicated that some MPs might be able to survive due to their own financial independence but salaries due to them should not be based on that principle.
“… We cannot expect persons to serve and at the same time not give them any resources”, he said.
Speculation is rife that Prime Ministers often leverage control over their government by appointing some MP’s to Cabinet and leaving others out with little monthly salaries at their disposal.