Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo had the National Assembly in an uproar on Thursday, accusing the government of not only withholding pay hike discussions across the board but also rhetorically slapping workers in Guyana, citing increases paid to ministers and MPs.
Taking the floor in Parliament, Jagdeo berated the government accusing that side of the house of “trying to illegally withdraw resources from the treasury to enrich themselves. And there is also a sinister motive that many of the members on the other side are insecure about their positions. Mr Speaker, many of them are up there in terms of age; now they know that their pension is calculated on the basis of their salaries.”
The motion brought by the opposition requesting that the salary increases be revoked via the annulment of the two orders which brought them into being, was voted down by the majority coalition government after much acrimony.
Speaker of the House Dr Barton Scotland chastised Jagdeo for his use of the word “sinister” and his subsequent citing of Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo as an example of an ageing member of parliament who would be thinking forward about his pension.
At one point, the Speaker told parliamentarians that they were “free to hurl insults, make imputations against one another” but cautioned, “then such matters can lead to other matters. I say no more.”
The Speaker had Jagdeo recant his use of the word and allowed him to rephrase his argument.
The former president said the government’s reasoning behind the increases were without merit. “This is the key point. On this side we never asked for the increase, so to say now that they gave a salary increase and to use the justification that we all benefited from this increase is to pull wool or put wool over the eyes of the people of this country. To make it look like we are all in this together and that members on our side somehow were complicit, were somehow included in seeking this salary increase. We were not,” Jagdeo stated.
He said, “A minister earning $579,000 a month and benefiting from all the things that [Member of Parliament Juan] Edghill spoke about… when we are calculating it, the benefits would be equivalent, close to another $800,000 per month… That’s not a liveable wage? And they had to give a huge salary increase to make this a liveable wage? It is shameful, Mr Speaker, that public servants are told that ministers have to earn close to a million dollars to have a liveable wage and they are earning less than $50,000.”
Garnering responses from both sides of the house, Jagdeo questioned what sort of courage was needed to take a huge salary increase.
Jagdeo said the implication of the first explanation for the increase was “that if it is okay to give ministers who are already earning $580,000 a month a huge salary increase to prevent stealing, what are we saying to the public servants who are earning $50,000 a month? The policeman, the teacher, a nurse are we saying to them it is okay to steal until you get your 50%?… Explanation number two was that we had these ministers, people who were current ministers that they were earning large sums of money in the private sector and that they could not be disadvantaged by coming into the government. Well, Mr Speaker, we have another motion before this house, a motion that seeks to make public the tax records of all members of parliament and we will see how much the same ministers were earning in the past to justify a salary increase.”
He scoffed at the justifications that were given by Finance Minister Winston Jordan and Minister of Governance Raphael Trotman that the increases were being used to differentiate categories of workers and designations, calling their statements the “height of arrogance.”
Dripping sarcasm, he added, “We are lucky to have such a caring government. That this caring government was considering a 100% increase and only took 50%, Mr Speaker. And the nation should be grateful to them for only taking 50%.”
Edghill, who Jagdeo referenced in his presentation, had moved the opposition’s motion. Edghill said, “A government having assumed office, after five weeks, have increased salaries for themselves in an astronomical manner and exorbitantly and moreover without indicating to the public and to the people of Guyana their intention of doing so. Nowhere on the campaign trail, nowhere in the public discourse did any member of the now government tell the people of Guyana that they will increase salaries for themselves at such a rate, but they told the people of Guyana they will increase salaries for nurses, teachers…”
Amidst heckles from the government side that their hands were clean, Edghill stated, “A lot of people are only talking about clean hands, but the scriptures not only say clean hands but clean hearts as well.”
He called the “first excuse” by the government to justify the pay increase, “fancy jargon.” The PPP/C’s speakers highlighted that the government would continuously use them as participants in the salary increase, but did not take responsibility for seeing the damaging effect it has on how the public perceived its elected officials.
Both Edghill and Jagdeo denied the level of involvement the opposition played, with the former stating that the PPP was aware that the Constitutional Offices (Remuneration of Holders) Order No 15 of 2015 which was gazetted on September 18, 2015 spoke of a 5% increase in salaries. However, the Ministers, Members of the National Assembly and Special Offices (Emoluments Order No 16 of 2015, which was gazetted on September 25, 2015 was the order which sought to increase salaries far beyond the 5%.
Jordan in his address directly after Edghill said there were “intense discussions” at the cabinet level prior to the decision being made. “At the end of the day, a decision was made and that decision was to increase the salaries of various office holders of the National Assembly by various percentages.”
The salary increases were heavily criticised by members of civil society as well as the opposition. Cabinet ministers will now receive $10,439,124 annually, a 50% increase from what was previously stated in the Principal Act. Members of Parliament without a designation received a 20% salary increase, taking their annual salaries from $2,002,116 to $2,402,532. Parliamentary secretaries and the Chief Whip will earn over 12% more, taking their salaries from $3,336,876 and $2,384,328 to $3,753,984 and $2,682,360 respectively. The Deputy Speaker will now earn $2,702,880, just under a $300,000 annual increase.
The increases were quietly gazetted without a public announcement.