Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo on Wednesday said elected office holders deserve higher salaries to avoid a loss of income prior to their appointments.
“You have a number of lawyers in the Cabinet who had shut down their offices or leave their practice to come into Cabinet and, therefore, you have to take recognition as we did when bauxite was nationalized, when sugar was nationalized- the promise on the agreement is that the workers would have no less favourable condition that they had enjoyed prior to the nationalized,” he said.
Nagamootoo, who had served under a “lean and clean” then People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) government as Information and Local Government Minister, reasoned that elected officials must be expected to give their service, commitment and loyalty in no less favourable conditions the day before they were sworn in.
“Seeking elected office anywhere in the world carries a salary. It could be more or it could be less but nowhere in the world do you see someone walk into an office and not expecting to be remunerated because they still have to live,” he said.
Acknowledging that government did a poor job in explaining why the increased salaries for ministers were necessary, he explained that a decision was taken to address an “anomaly” among senior and junior ministers and members of the judiciary.
“It’s not that we changed. It’s that we wanted to put in a system that would allow us to govern better and it’s not the quantity of the money. It ‘s the principle of correcting the anomalies that had existed,” he said.
While that explanation has been already provided by Finance Minister Winston Jordan, the Prime Minister said that was not a good approach because certain ministers would be involved in negotiating wages and salaries with trade unions.
Seeking to escape criticism by the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) that he had said that he had forgone salary increases in the past unless the nurses and teachers could have been paid more, Nagamootoo smarted from questions about what has changed today. Instead, he said he would have been satisfied with any pay hike. “When we were dealing with this issue, any numbers could have been agreed for me, for the Prime Minister and it would have been fine,” he said.
The Prime Minister said he received a 10% percent increase, the President 5% while Junior Ministers’ salaries remained lower than the Permanent Secretaries. He said the three Vice Presidents did not receive increased salaries because a new pay structure was set for them.
Reacting to critics who charged that government ministers paid themselves just a few months after taking office, he said “I don’t believe that those who are saying that we have come into public office with an expectation that we will earn less ought not to seek office because if that is what happens ine every sector, no one would want to be a judge because you will tell the lawyer when you become a judge you will get far less than perhaps what you dream of getting as a lawyer,” he said.
The Prime Minister’s taxable salary of GUY$1.5 million has been increased by 10.7 percent while the GUY$579,000 salary for a junior minister has been increased by 12.5 percent and for senior ministers by 50 percent. Vice Presidents have gotten a 60 percent hike on the GUY$579,000. The Attorney General’s salary of GUY$1.6 million has been increased by five percent.
The PPP plans to table motions at Thursday’s sitting of the National Assembly to reverse the pay hike and get parliamentarians to publish their income tax returns for the past 10 years.
Red Thread, Guyana Teachers Union and the Guyana Trades Union Congress have criticised the salary increase. In the case of the Trades Union Congress, it wants the ministers’ pay hike to be used as the “barometer” for wage and salary negotiations.