By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
NAYSAYERS will never approve raising the salaries of parliamentarians, attorney Fred Smith, QC, said yesterday as he welcomed Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis’ intention to increase the pay of MPs.
Mr Smith, who has recently fought against some of the Minnis administration’s immigration and legislative priorities, said a pay raise for parliamentarians and civil servants is one way to prevent corruption.
“If we look at other jurisdictions like Singapore, you have to have a reduction in red tape to promote investment, which the government is doing, you have to have good anti-corruption laws, you have to have a Freedom of Information Act and you have to have good salaries for public servants,” he said.
298 total votes.
Dr Minnis’ announcement of a pay raise for parliamentarians in the next fiscal year has sparked intense debate, with many Bahamians voicing a complaint the prime minister made three years ago when the Christie administration considered the same thing – that too many Bahamians are suffering and the economy is weak.
The Progressive Liberal Party (PLP), in particular, has criticised the administration for seeking a pay raise while firing people from the public service.
Mr Smith countered yesterday: “Of course thousands will probably have to be laid off because thousands were improperly hired on the eve of the election by the PLP.
“I would urge Parliament to pass legislation to prevent any outgoing administration from extending a contract or hiring people long-term on the eve of an election because it is a plainly dishonest manipulation of public funds by an incumbent administration for an election victory.
“I support the prime minister’s intention 100 per cent to increase the salaries of members of Parliament and to conduct a review of all salaries in the public service. It is an absolute must so that political will and commitment for fighting corruption gains ground.
“The citizenry gave the FNM a hyper majority because they were sick and tired of the ‘all for me,’ corrupt PLP crowd. Jurisdictions have shown that where you are serious about fighting corruption, your legislators and your public servants have to be decently paid.
“There is nothing that undermines a democracy more than the power wielded by special interest groups over politicians and we don’t have to look any further than Peter Nygard’s control of the PLP for decades. That was a sad chapter in Bahamian history and one which was dismissed on May 10.
“There is nothing more undignified than members of Parliament after they have been elected then begging for money to provide services for their constituents and to make ends meet for their own families.
“Once they are given a decent and reasonable salary to help keep the best and the brightest in Parliament, they will be able to work more effectively and the temptation of corruption will be dramatically decreased,” Mr Smith said.
Dr Minnis has been criticised for promising that which he opposed three years ago. Among his critics is former Free National Movement Chairman Darron Cash.
On Facebook last week, Mr Cash said the message the prime minister is sending is “me first, you last”.
However warranted a salary increase might be, “it is still feathering your own nest,” he said, adding: “If I did not know better I would have sworn I was being punked. The news is unbelievable. Old people say that when you make your bed up hard, you have to sleep in it hard. When a new government is striving to distinguish itself from its predecessors in office, a good starting point is not to do all the dumb things they did, especially if you were opposed to those things.”
He continued: “There is something unseemly about a government laying off people who are desperate for a job and then coming behind and raising its own salaries... the FNM did not run on the message of ‘downsize the staff and upsize our own salaries.’ Tough decisions cause goodwill and political capital to be eroded. That is to be expected. A new government should spend its political capital on the tough decisions that matter most to the broader population.”