Do Our MPs Deserve a Salary Hike?

Hindustan Times, August 13, 2016

VIEW: A decent income could incentivise honesty, integrity in public representatives

Law-makers made an impassioned plea for a pay hike on the last day of the monsoon session of Parliament on Friday. Samajwadi Party?s Ram Gopal Yadav argued that an MP?s salary should be more than that of the cabinet secretary who gets `2.5 lakh a month. He got support from Congress leader Anand Sharma and other opposition MPs but the SP leader might have helped the cause better by not linking it with status.

A decent salary could incentivise honesty and integrity in public representatives. It might not prevent many from falling for the lure of the lucre, but would help a conscientious few to resist temptations. Following public (read media) outrage over a four-fold hike in Delhi MLAs? salaries last year, Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal said if they still indulged in corruption, ?don?t spare them?. People will have that option vis-?is parliamentarians as well.

An MP?s monthly compensation comprises `45,000 as basic salary, `45,000 as constituency allowance, `30,000 to pay his staff and `15,000 for stationary items and postages. He or she also gets `2,000 per day for attending Parliament.

Other entitlements include rent-free accommodation in the capital, 1.50 lakh free phone calls a year, and 4,000 kilolitres of water and 50,000 units of electricity per annum. A parliamentary committee has recommended a 100% hike in MPs? salaries and allowances.

?I get `1.09 lakh in my account per month. Hundreds of people visit my office every day. I must offer them tea, biscuits, food and even money if some poor people need medical treatment. What?s left for me and my family,? asks Mysore MP Pratap Simha. When he needed prosthetic legs for his wife, he was told that under the central government health scheme, he was entitled to `10,000 only. ?I had to borrow money to get those artificial legs costing over `3 lakh.?

Yadav proffered similar arguments in Rajya Sabha, saying inflation has soared but the salaries of MPs, who have to entertain public visitors, remain static. A politician might spend half of his life trying to enter Parliament and might not get a second term. He would then be left to fend for himself with a monthly pension of `20,000.

Salaries might not be an issue with many parliamentarians. There are 28 businessmen, 12 industrialists and four builders in the Lok Sabha. But there are also 77 political and social workers and 44 farmers/ agriculturists. Is `1.09 lakh a month enough for an MP, confronting uncertainties in the next elections?

A US Congressman gets `9.70 lakh as basic salary, about `4.30 lakh more than what a member of the UK?s House of Commons gets. Their perks are also hefty. A Pakistani lawmaker?s monthly compensation is around `80,000, while Chinese parliamentarians don?t get salary. It?s nobody?s case that Indian MPs? salaries should be at par with their US or European counterparts. Nor does one surmise that good salaries to legislators would end scams involving them. But it?s hypocritical to expect our MPs to lead a Spartan life with a paltry salary. Incentivising probity in public life could be a small step in the right direction.

COUNTERVIEW: If parliamentarians want a better pay, let them perform in the first place

I would happily recommend a pay hike for Mallikarjun Kharge; I wouldn?t give a penny more to Sachin Tendulkar.

When the new Lok Sabha took shape two years ago, Kharge got an unenviable job. He had to lead a party whose strength had come down to a fourth of its size in the Lok Sabha. Somehow he makes the Congress appear bigger than the sum of its MPs.

Tendulkar, on the other hand, has hardly been there in the Rajya Sabha, never mind that the Rajya Sabha is where the action is. Not the bat-on-ball action, but he could have tried to be a good parliamentarian.

Maybe the MPs are showing that wit has not altogether gone out of Parliament, with the demise of the likes of Piloo Modi of the Swatantra Party. Why else would they recommend a hefty hike in their pay at the end of the colossal waste that was the budget session?

If they are serious, there ought to be a system to assess performance. Yes, even MPs?.

Make that especially MPs?. Their job was never about the money to begin with. In fact, it should not even be seen as a job. Just like journalists?.

One can make much more money selling soap than by writing. And the worst kind — MPs and journalists — are those that justify their being corrupt by pointing to the low pay.

In that they sound like Mark McCluskey, the cop in The Godfather who thought he could take bribes because he was a good cop and provided protection to the people in his precinct. After all, he had four sons to put through college. Few cried when Michael Corleone gunned him down, along with drug dealer Virgil Sollozzo.

The thing is, McCluskey knew cops? pay; his father was one. If he thought it was too low, he could have chosen to do something else. If you think MPs? salary is low, stick to whatever else you can do for more money. If you want to be in politics to serve the people, serve the people. That will require you to be a good MP, raising issues, participating in debates, shaping public policy, and addressing your people?s grievances.

For evidence that it is not about the money, look no further than Bhagwati Devi. An unlettered woman from the Musahar caste, the poorest of the poor, she held her own against the urbane Brinda Karat while debating the women?s reservation bill in 1997. In the process, she sensitised a lot of people to the plight of her caste.

Ram Vilas Paswan strikes just the wrong chords when he says lawmakers will not be able to work for the public if not given money. He should look at the unspent amounts of the local area development funds. And he should delink fulfilling personal needs from the needs of the public.

Can Paswan, or other MPs list how their attempts to serve the public have been thwarted because they are not paid enough salary? Maybe they wouldn?t have to clamour so hard to get a hike if they worked hard to serve the public.

Mukesh Ambani, who runs India?s largest private sector company, has not given himself a salary hike in eight years. In that time, his company, Reliance Industries, has doubled its net profit. Talk performance

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