FREE TOWN MP Dionisio D’Aguilar yesterday said parliamentarians would not be able to satisfy the overwhelming need of constituents even if their salaries were doubled.
Mr D’Aguilar, also Minister of Tourism and Aviation, gave his full support for the proposed salary hike, telling reporters MPs were constantly forced to balance charitable ambitions with personal finances.
He called the current pay “negligible” and suggested any increase given to MPs would be injected directly into their constituencies.
“It’s such a tiny amount of money to help all of the needs of your constituents,” Mr D’Aguilar said.
“I don’t care what any MP says, I am 100 percent certain that almost all of them spend all of that money on their constituents. You need funds to assist. You’re constantly being drawn between trying to help them and not bankrupting yourself and this is the problem every time.”
He added: “So the more you give me, the more I’ll give back and obviously I have to dip into my own pocket on top of that.”
When asked about internal controls to track spending, Mr D’Aguilar said as an accountant he believed everyone should be able to “account for their funds.” He noted Finance Minister K Peter Turnquest has indicated the $100,000 capital expenditure for each MP’s constituency will only be released in $25,000 increments every three months.
“And in order to get the next one (increment),” he said, “you have to produce the paperwork to show how you spent the previous $25,000. He’s an accountant, he’s no fool, that’s a clever way to do it.”
Two weeks ago, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis announced he would present a salary increase for MPs in the next budget cycle. At the time, he said he would create an independent committee to look at the members’ salaries and review the salary structure for government entitles.
“Let’s do an analysis of it,” Mr D’Aguilar said outside of Cabinet yesterday. “It’s $28,000. In Free Town, I’ve got 9,000 constituents, 4,500 are registered.
“We get $538 a week to tend to the needs of 9,000 constituents. I don’t know about my colleagues, but I give every single dollar that I make to my constituency. So my belief is the more you give me the more I can give to my constituents to help with back to school, catastrophes, there’s always a compelling need to help your constituents.”
Dr Minnis’ announcement immediately sparked immense backlash from the general public and the Official Opposition.
It also represents a change in Dr Minnis’ 2014 position, when in response to the Christie administration’s desire for the same thing, he said: “As long as I am leader of this country, the FNM would not support any pay increase with all the pain and suffering that is going on in this country.”
Yesterday, Mr D’Aguilar said: “It’s never the right time, never the right time to ask for an increase for a MP. They always say that, you ask one month, ten months from now, they’ll say it’s the wrong time. Seems unreasonable to me.
“The complaint is often ‘oh I ain’ see my MP, my MP ain’ helping us.’ It seems that the Bahamian people want us to assist them but they don’t want to us to provide the financial resources to do so. You got to be reasonable.
“I think it’s been proven time and time again just because you give to your constituents, that doesn’t mean that you’re going to guarantee a vote from them. They not going to necessarily vote for you. I just think there are people who have fallen on hard times and more often than not $538 a week just isn’t going to suffice to try and make a meaningful impact on people’s lives.”
The Free Town MP added: “It’s just impossible and even if you double the MPs’ pay, I don’t think you’d be able to fulfil all the requests, so whatever you throw this Member of Parliament, it is going to go into my constituency.”