“None of us should send a message out there that what we in this thing for is money, I think that’s a message he has sent out there.”
Those were the words of Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell to describe the action taken by Member of Parliament for the Constituency of St. George North East, Tobias Clement to hand back to government the monthly $1,200 salary received as a representative of the people.
Addressing reporters at the weekly Post-Cabinet Press Briefing held Tuesday at the Ministerial Complex, Dr. Mitchell who did not offer Clement a position in government for the second consecutive term in office, said that the decision taken by the MP was “unwise”.
“I think it’s an unfortunate statement. It makes him look like he was expecting a lot of money. As a member of Parliament, you must know when you’re going to Parliament what the rules are,” he said.
PM Mitchell cited his own time when he entered the Parliament as an opposition member in 1990 and was receiving $1,200 as a salary and did not make any “noise” about it.
“In 1995, I was not Leader of the Opposition, neither was I a minister of government, so I got 11, 12 hundred dollars and it’s well known that I was making thousands and thousands of US dollars in America – that was not even my little drinks change with my friends in Washington but I make no noise because I knew why I came here, (it) was not for money and therefore I think it was an unwise message,” he remarked.
According to Dr. Mitchell, the better option for Clement in the situation was to distribute the money among some selective constituents in North East.
“I wonder if it’s not meant to be just a public relation stunt because it seems to me if you figure that the money is not enough and you want to give it back, you go to North East and take five, seven, four children and say, ‘look, they give me this, I am already drawing enough money from St. George’s University as a professor and I can afford to make the contribution – that is what I would have advised him to do but he didn’t ask me.
“So, it gives me the leverage to respond publicly and otherwise because he made a statement which was unfortunate for his own interest. As a friend of mine and a colleague, I think it was unwise and I hope he doesn’t pursue that path. He said he would continuously do it, well all I would say is that I would be continuously making that point.
In spite of Clement’s stance on the salary issue for MP’s, Dr. Mitchell said he is not in support of the amount that parliamentarians are receiving.
Earlier this year, PM Mitchell announced that a three-member team would be instituted by government to review the salaries of MP’s.
However, he told reporters that government has to be careful in moving forward along those lines.
The Prime Minister said: “You have to realise that whenever we are dealing with parliamentarians salary, in the face of some of the issues we are facing with the workers, we want to be very careful that we don’t send the message that we out there trying to take care of ourselves. But, I definitely believe it’s unfair morally for us to be paying parliamentarians the level of income that we’re paying them, I think it’s extremely unfair…
“Those of us who have independent resources and we didn’t come depending on government salary, may survive as we have been but I think it’s very difficult for a person with mediocre means to come in and make a genuine contribution and be paid the level of salary and at the same time being able to take care of the salary in a very independent way. I think it’s unfair and I think it’s something that we have to correct.
Dr. Mitchell alluded to the notion held by some people that parliamentarians should not receive salary increases.
“Unfortunately, we have a society who believes that parliamentarians must get nothing at all. We watched the budget and we see several people in the public service making three and four times (the salary of some MPs) but we don’t say a word about that but let the parliamentarian get one cent increase, noise for so.
According to PM Mitchell, these are the same people who go for help to the same parliamentarians when their heads hurt them.
“We don’t go to those public servants that making three and four times the salary, we don’t go to the big busines man in the country, we come to the parliamentarians, the same person that we refuse and we say we must not get any increase at all…these are the ones we still go to”, he said.