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Ralph Ramkarran recommends face-saver for govt over ministerial pay increases

BEFORE ELECTIONS 2015: Former House Speaker, Ralph Ramkarran (centre) chatting with Cathy Hughes and Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine who have since been appointed Tourism and Education Ministers respectively.

Veteran Guyanese politician, Ralph Ramkarran on Sunday recommended a rescue plan that the coalition government could use to pull itself out of the mountain of condemnation over its decision to increase ministers’ salaries, while offering mixed reasons.

Writing in his weekly “Conversation Tree” column, Ramkarran said the mess that the administration of President David Granger has found itself should be addressed urgently by a special face-saving mechanism.

“If the Government wants to recover some semblance of rectitude it may wish to consider the establishment of a permanent, statutory, structure, to which reference has been made above, and publicly commit to asking the body to review the recent increases and decide whether they are compatible with normally accepted principles and the disparities that existed immediately before the increases,” he said in his column of Saturday, October 17, 2015 titled “The Honeymoon is Over.”

Ramkarran said such a concession would go a far away to remove public disquiet over the matter. At the same time, he cautioned that the disquiet would remain even when the matter is overtaken by other events.

The former Speaker of the National Assembly noted that there have been calls by other Political Analysts like Dr Henry Jeffrey and Christopher Ram for the establishment of a statutory structure comprising various sectors of the society to periodically review salaries of government ministers as is done in many countries. Alternatively, Ramkarran said even if this were not possible within the time frame that the Government had in mind, an ad hoc, independent, committee was possible.

Ramkarran, whose anti-corruption crusade that eventually led to his resignation from the People’s Progressive Party after more than 40 years, chided government for its apparent high-handedness in awarding itself pay hikes.

“The Government had a golden opportunity to begin the move away from the arrogance and the discredited practices of the past,” he said.

Ramkarran accused government of engaging in an “ill-advised act of self-indulgence, bereft of sensitivity, violative of principle, devoid of support except from its beneficiaries”- a move that will lead Guyanese to conclude that “they’re all the same.” “The short-sighted manner, the deceptive process and the defiant tones which accompanied the decision, will colour the outlook by which the Administration is viewed, including by its friends and well-wishers,” he said.

Government has given various explanations for awarding a 50 percent increase in salaries. These include the need to avoid ministers from being tempted to engage in corrupt practices, the need for parity between salaries in the judiciary and the executive and the need to ensure there is efficiency and commitment of ministers, many of whom have come from the private sector and professions.

Ramkarran acknowledged the need to rectify the grave disparity in which the President and Attorney General take home about five times that of a minister and where judges take home thrice and more  as much as ministers. However, he questioned how experienced politicians in government could not have known that the collective national senses would revolt against the Cabinet awarding itself any increases at all, much less fifty percent in most cases, with public servants and seniors having received less than promised on account of shortage of resources and with electricity and water subsidies being removed from seniors.

Ramkarran further queried how the government could not have known that fixing their own salaries from the public purse, which is taxpayers’ moneys held in trust, is an abuse of that trust and of the electorate’s trust and that the Cabinet could not have understood that doing so was a “blatant case of a conflict of interest, as severe as any that can be imagined.”