Monday April 28 2014

Reduce the number of MPs to make Parliament more effective

By Nick T. Twinamatsiko

Our Members of Parliament want a pay raise. And it’s probable they will get it since they easily reach agreement when it comes to matters of their own emoluments. But when you examine their reasons for the demands, you notice a failure of logic and a crisis of leadership.

When they argue that the cost of living has gone up, you wonder whether inflation specifically targets legislators. Our primary school teachers earn one per cent of the salary of our Members of Parliament.

The salaries of all civil servants are minute fractions of the salaries of Members of Parliament. If there was to be salary adjustment over inflation, such adjustment wouldn’t begin with the Members of Parliament.

Secondly, the salary of our MPs is outrageously disproportionate to their contribution to national development. The Irish writer Oscar Wilde said, “nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”
Indeed, we know what we must pay our legislators but we don’t know their value. Theoretically, a legislator has a very significant role. But I am talking about the reality – I am referring to the sort of MPs we typically get and the way they actually go about national affairs.

The greatest argument against democracy is not a five-minute chat with an average voter, as Winston Churchill thought, but rather a five-minute listen-in to the proceedings in our August House.

It seems primary school teachers, each of whom earns one per cent of an MP’s salary, are of more significant to national development than Members of Parliament. What we pay MPs for isn’t the value they add to the country, but rather the fact that, a few years ago, they managed to persuade villagers, largely through bribery, into voting for them.
Thirdly, Members of Parliament need a pay raise so they can satisfy the demands of the instituted culture of bribery.

They say they must attend every funeral and every wedding and every graduation function of their constituents, and while at those ceremonies, they must make hefty contributions. These contributions are in fact bribes, given with the next election in view.
We require our Members of Parliament to have sat and passed A-Level exams or their equivalent, and anybody with that level of education surely knows that legislators are not elected to attend weddings, funerals and other similar ceremonies.

How then did we get to the point whereby Members of Parliament think that’s in fact their core duty? Democracy has been completely commercialised. For Members of Parliament, it’s all about investing enough money to secure victory in the election, and the salary, which they now want increased, is their return on previous investment.

One would expect the Members of Parliament to educate the masses: to correct the impression that an MP’s job is to attend private ceremonies, and to discourage the culture of showy parties that are beyond the range of the host’s independent means.

One would expect them to encourage their constituents to work harder so they can foot their own bills. One would expect them to pass legislation that makes such hard work possible and sufficiently rewarding.

But we have a crisis of leadership whereby leaders don’t seek better conditions or correct perceptions, but manipulate the existing ones for personal gain. So if the culture of ostentation and disguised bribery suits their personal objectives, they will not try to change it.

They will just ensure that they have enough money to invest for the next election, and the way to get that money is to ask for – or rather to give themselves - a pay raise.

We must find a way of making the legislature less costly and more effective. We should, in fact, support the proposed extension of the MPs’ current term if, in return, they agree to reduce the number of constituencies to a quarter of their present number and to set the MPs’ pay to the public service scale, say U1.

Mr Twinamatsiko is a civil engineer and novelist.