Mon | Jul 15, 2024

Gordon Robinson | Where’s the beef?

Published:Sunday | June 4, 2023 | 1:19 AM
Kay Osborne (left) and other demonstrators bear placards as they protest the massive salary hike for the political directorate across the street from the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service in Kingston.
Kay Osborne (left) and other demonstrators bear placards as they protest the massive salary hike for the political directorate across the street from the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service in Kingston.

Since time immemorial, employers and employees have been negotiating salary levels and working conditions.

During the 19th century, workers, mainly in UK, Europe and USA, began organizing negotiations through groups called Trade Unions. After predictable employer hostility, Unions developed different strategies for increased influence. British Unions chose political activism resulting in the Labour Party’s formation (1906). American Unions, unfriendly to British tradition, chose economic activism via collective bargaining.

Unsurprisingly, Jamaica followed the British playbook. PNP (origin coincided with Manley’s Trade Union Advisory Council - later TUC) then JLP (formed as BITU’s political wing) were congenitally linked to rival Trade Unions. For 80 plus years politically affiliated Unions have negotiated for improvement of Jamaican workers’ salaries, benefits and working conditions.

Jamaica’s Trade Union landscape has expanded over time and various workers’ groups, including public sector workers, jumped on the Union train. In the public sector, different groups formed Associations to negotiate on their behalf with their employer, namely Government.

So the recent struggle to reconstruct public sector compensation forced Government to engage in complex negotiations with several different “Unions”. The process is entrenched in law (e.g. Trade Union Act; Labour Relations and Industrial Dispute Act) and practice. It’s expected such a massive undertaking would throw up anomalies so the aftermath, although somewhat over-heated, was also predictable.

What has perplexed many is the apparently swift, seamless segue into “granting” humongous salary increases to Jamaica’s political directorate. Who did the granting? Who negotiated on behalf of grantees? What system was used to analyse/assess value or performance? Where is the legal authority for apparently selfish, self-centred, self-gratifying, self-created salary increases for Ministers, MPs and Councillors?

Or, as Clara Peller might exclaim, “Where’s the Beef?”

In his May 21 Gleaner article, Leadership salaries in public service, Nigel Clarke, whose responsibility is management of Jamaica’s finances, didn’t rely on any legal authority for his shocking salaries increase announcement. According to Nigel:

“Salaries of cabinet ministers have been benchmarked to the salaries of permanent secretaries for the better part of 50 years….. And pay for [MPs] has tracked 62.5 per cent of the cabinet minister’s pay since 1990. In updating ministerial and parliamentary pay, the existing framework….has simply been applied to the new central government salary scale.”

So Nigel’s legal authority for politicians’ unconscionable salary increases is “existing framework” based on a “benchmark” created 50 years ago.

Created how?

My recollection is it happened by grand announcement from PM Michael Manley but Dr. Google insists it was a 1981 Ronald Sasso Task Force proposal. Maybe Joshua announced $1 per annum more and Sasso advised $1 per week. Who knows?

That’s not how any employee’s salary has ever been settled. Information Guru Robert Morgan (quoted by JIS): “The increase comes as part of [the] public-sector-transformation process. The question that we have to also ask ourselves is…where should…[MPs] be…on the scale?”

Ask OURSELVES? Are you SERIOUS?

I’m grateful to a colleague attorney-at-law practising at the public bar (whose name I won’t call for obvious reasons) for kick-starting my search for Ms. Peller’s “beef”. My colleague pointed me to a little-known provision in The Jamaica (Constitution) Order in Council 1962 passed at the Court at Buckingham Palace on July 23, 1962. The Royal Order decreed “power may be exercised by the Governor of the Colony of Jamaica….to such extent as may, in his opinion, be necessary or expedient to enable the Constitution established by this Order to function….”

Weren’t we lucky?

Section 8 of that Order provided:

“Until other provision is made in that behalf, the salary and allowances payable to members of either House, the President and Deputy President of the Senate, the Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries shall be those payable to the persons last holding the corresponding offices immediately before the commencement of this Order.”

Most of this offensive colonial edict was intended to ensure “Independence” meant no fundamental change except taking us off Britain’s payroll. So the political directorate’s salaries were constitutionally frozen at 1962 levels “until other provision is made”.

This concept accords with labour relations’ history; Trade Unions’ evolution; and entrenched practice of negotiating salaries with employers rather than whimsically fixing your own salary.

Jamaican Government and Parliament didn’t exist before 1962. They were created by the Constitution which is expressed to be Supreme Law. So, obviously, MPs and Ministers are “employed” by the Constitution after electoral consultation NOT by themselves. Accordingly, “other provisions” establishing systems for calculating MPs/Ministers’ salaries ought to have been inserted in the Constitution.

It isn’t there.

Well, maybe it was inappropriately placed in ordinary legislation. We’ll worry about constitutionality later. I searched the Financial Administration and Audit Act (FAAA).

Nothing. Zip. Nada. Nought!

I scrutinized the Public Service Regulations. Nary a word!

In desperation I went to the Interpretation Act. Nothing about salaries but my pre-existing bias was reinforced by the definition of “prescribed” as “prescribed by the Act in which the word occurs or by any regulations made thereunder.” I know “prescribed” isn’t “other provision” but it strengthened my view that Parliamentarians’ salary assessment systems should be constitutionally prescribed.

I found no legal basis for pegging Ministers’ salaries to Permanent Secretaries’ or the consequential domino effect. It seems to me yet another example of government by Prime Ministerial diktat. So I tapped impeccable, high-ranking, confidential civil service sources who confirmed these salaries are set by cabinet decision after consideration of various advisory committee reports the last of which was the Oliver Clarke report (2003).

The Clarke Report and a Special Parliamentary Group (chaired by Omar Davies) convened to review the report’s recommendations, advised delinking of Ministers/Permanent Secretaries salaries; that an independent Commission to assess salaries be established; that Parliamentarians’ compensation should include performance incentives and be taxed exactly like private citizens’. Successive cabinets ignored this.

But neither I nor my sources are infallible so I’m sure Nigel is feverishly searching his Ministry’s filing cabinets and will soon show me the lost beef.

So what’s all this whining “I didn’t know how much I was getting until the announcement!” about? Is Nigel ONE decided? And kept it a secret from you innocent lambs? Apart from it being a cabinet decision, after “agonizing”, according to PM, wouldn’t the estimated expenditure appear in the budget “considered” by cabinet? Remember Nigel threatening public sector workers with risking losing pay already allocated if signing late?

So which is it? Was it before the cabinet TWICE yet unnoticed? Or was the decision made without cabinet input? Is it incompetence, negligence or illegality? Or, did Ministers know massive salary hikes were approved but are now publicly shrivelling up like shame lady?

Lookie here, stop telling me how much you deserve; how hard you work; how much constituents inconvenience you. I. Don’t. Care! This isn’t about who deserves what. Like everything else in governance, this is about PROCESS.

Parliament is created by the Constitution. Its function is specified there. MP stands for Member of Parliament NOT Corner Don or Godfather. MPs represent constituents as lawmakers.

They. Have. No. Other. Lawful. Role!

Local on-the-ground Parish governance is Councillors’ job. It includes developing, managing and maintaining infrastructure (parochial roads, water supplies etc) or services (poor relief, cleansing, health, street lighting etc).

Except as a practice developed because being MP is soooo important the status must continue by any means necessary, no MP should be spending personal or taxpayers’ money. But do they? Because, based on some published sob-stories, if they personally paid for all things claimed (without CDF or political donors’ help), di likkle salary would soon dunn and many couldn’t pay for criss tax-exempt cars or lavish life styles. If they do spend personally on constituency compassion, why?

Westminster’s winner-take-all system ensures this do-or-die constituency contest. Then MPs bawl blue murder about having to spend their own resources assisting with constituents’ personal issues. So, like Oliver, they want more. That antediluvian activity only spreads our rotten governance system’s stench. We STILL ape a British system unrestricted by a written constitution and featuring 600 backbenchers with time on their hands.

Jamaica urgently needs systemic change. MPs must obey the Constitution and limit activities to representing constituents (NOT Party) in parliament monitoring and regulating a separate Executive Government. An entrenched independent Commission on Parliamentarians pay is 60 years overdue.

So, current Constitutional Reform process is critical. We the People MUST force Government to reconstruct Jamaica’s corrupt governance systems into government by the people for the people. Don’t be bullied into accepting cosmetic changes for political parties’ benefit. All available evidence suggests that’s Government/Opposition’s plan. Government bullied public servants into hurriedly accepting modest salary increases then mined its own gold. Opposition gratefully accepted its share.

So it’s up to YOU!

Peace and Love.

Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com