MPs need to justify anger

Dear Reader, how would you feel if you earned a salary of R643800 a year? Is that too little for a hard day's work?

Many Sowetan readers would love to earn that much money. It would be a dream come true.

But our MPs are complaining that it is not enough.

So then, how much is the South African taxpayer prepared to pay their member of parliament?

Does a member of parliament deserve to be paid the equivalent of a private sector salary?

What, in real terms, does a parliamentarian really deliver for an ordinary citizen?

Are our MPs just stooges of their parties and not real representatives of the people?

These are the questions that should dominate the debate that has been sparked by the release last week of the report of the Independent Commission for the Remuneration of Public Office Bearers, headed by Judge Dikgang Moseneke, into the salaries of elected public office bearers, as well as the judiciary and traditional leaders.

The report has sparked anger among members of parliament, who say the 5,4percent increase recommended for them is a slap in the face.

The commission recommends a total package of R643800 for an ordinary MP. They want more.

You cannot really blame them if you compare their salaries to those the commission recommends for the country's top politicians, such as President Thabo Mbeki and his cabinet.

Mbeki, it says, should receive a 57,3percent increase in his yearly pay package of basic salary, car allowance, medical and pension contributions, from R1,1million to R1,8million.

Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka will now pocket R1,7million and deputy ministers are expected to receive R1,196million a year.

Moseneke pointed out in his report that ministers were seen to be paid lower than the market rate but that MPs were pretty much on the same level as their private sector counterparts.

"The pension fund is regarded as being favourable when compared with the general market. The facilities of members are fair and can be compared favourably to facilities for similar positions in the private sector," he said.

So what is the problem here? Well, I think that what we have to look at is the culture of money that has come to grip our country and, secondly, whether we are getting what we pay for when it comes to our MPs.

Personally, I believe that public servants should be paid on a par with private sector workers. This will ensure that we get MPs who are as talented and qualified - and as hard working - as people in the private sector.

The reason why there has been such a massive exodus from the halls of parliament into business is mainly because, in the past anyway, the grass is always greener in the private sector for those who are really talented.

Worse still, for those people who want to serve but are used to lucrative salaries in the private sector, choosing the path of service becomes terribly hard.

There are people with not much interest in business, even though they might be good at some aspects of it, but staying in public service just becomes financially impossible for them.

But to be fair, a salary of R650000 is not peanuts, and these MPs have to justify why they are so angry at it.

Is it perhaps that these MPs see their jobs as just part of the gravy train and therefore they want more of the gravy?

I find it quite hard to believe the moaning from many MPs that they are not getting enough. I think what they mean is that they are not getting as much as their colleagues in cabinet positions.

The real problem though is that our democracy has become perverted by the abuse of party representation instead of constituency-based voting.

Members of parliament are nominated by the party and assured their stay in parliament by their party bosses, not by the electorate. In many instances, this means that voters are paying a salary to someone who is useless at protecting their interests but good at toeing the party line and being nice to the party's top brass.

Now, imagine if the voter was truly the boss in this arrangement. If an MP was not performing at their optimum level, then they would be kicked out very quickly indeed.

Right now, those who see there is a remote possibility of being kicked out of a job can jump ship to the next party through the floor-crossing legislation.

We have seen many former National Party ministers jumping to the ANC and other incompetents do the same. The question to ask is: Were they good MP material in the first place?

Should we have been paying them our hard-earned monies in the first place?

There will always be debate about how much exactly an MP is worth. We in South Africa are lucky to have probably the most beautiful constitution yet crafted by man. What that constitution needs is to be interpreted and defended by MPs worthy of our trust in them.

The current lot of MPs have not always shown that they are in parliament to represent and defend the people and their constitution. So what we need is a very hard look at their work rate and to determine whether they deserve a bigger salary.

On current performance, the majority of our MPs do not seem to have a case.