Bainimarama’s excessive pay as prime minister and his $3000 a day overseas allowance have been the subject of strong public criticism.
Particularly considering that his government has kept the pays of ordinary workers suppressed, refusing, deferring or reducing recommendations of the Wages Councils.
Labour has always advocated social justice, as well as accountability and transparency in governance. In keeping with this policy, Labour will determine the salaries and allowances of Members of Parliament, including Ministers and the Speaker, in an open, accountable and transparent manner.
An independent commission comprising eminently qualified persons will undertake such determinations from time to time but not more frequently than once in 5 years.
The TOR (terms of reference) of the Commission will require it to obtain the views of the people on the subject, in particular that of trade unions and employers.
Labour believes that MPs and Ministers must receive fair pay, commensurate with their responsibilities and duties as guardians of the State. However, their remuneration must be fixed, taking account of pay levels in the civil service. Currently, this is not the case.
PM’s Salary and National Minimum Wage
Salaries of the PM and ministers were increased substantially by a special Decree just two days before the first sitting of Parliament after the 2014 general elections. PM’s salary was increased three-fold compared to what his predecessor was paid. Ministers were granted similar increases.
The Decree placed the Prime Minister’s salary at $328,750 inclusive of allowances. The Finance Minister’s (Economy) salary is $235,000. Bainiamrama’s pay compares with the $111,000 salary paid to Laisenia Qarase as Prime Minister.
This substantial increase was seen by many as an act of greed by the nation’s leaders while the national minimum wage was kept supressed at $2.00 per hour or $80 per week.
The PM’s salary works out at $27,400 a month or $6322 a week. An ordinary worker on the current national minimum wage of $2.68 an hour will have to work the whole year ($5574) and more to earn what the Prime Minister earns in a week.
The salary and perks the prime minister and other ministers are paid are well above what can be justified, taking account of the socio-economic factors that should be considered in determining the emoluments of ministers and members of parliament.
Another concern is the over generous overseas travel allowances of parliamentarians which they fixed for themselves two years ago. The much publicised $3000 per diem for overseas travel paid to the Prime Minister has been widely criticised in the social media.
Critics point out that the amount is excessive and unjustified considering that it is two and half times the daily rate paid to United Nations diplomats. Aside from that, the PM gets an additional $600 per day for which there is no explanation except to say that it is to meet incidental expenses.
Secret Salary Payments
The nation is still in the dark on how much the Prime Minister and the Attorney General were paid in the years between 2010 and 2013 when Cabinet salaries were paid secretly by a Suva accounting firm with close connections to the Attorney General.
This has been a matter of on-going concern to the public. It was highlighted in the Auditor General’s Report for 2014. It stated that despite repeated calls by his office and the Finance Ministry, the PM’s Office had not produced the required acquittals for these payments. The Public Accounts Committee had also called for the acquittals but without success.
Another case raised by the Auditor General in his 2014 report is the payment of around $24,000 made to settle the PM’s credit card account again without acquittals being provided.
We say that the prime minister must produce the acquittals or face appropriate investigation by the authorities. There must be no exceptions where public funds are concerned.