Getting what you pay for
SOME PEOPLE rather cruelly believe that the term ‘Jamaican parish councillor’ is a synonym for functional illiterate. And given how poor so many parish councillors are at establishing a presence in their divisions and doing real work, it’s a hard case to make for them to be given a pay increase.
But on the eve of what Buju Banton calls ‘another toll to the polls’, now is as good a time as any to talk about the ridiculous salaries paid to parish councillors and mayors.
In 1996, parish councillors were being paid an annual salary of about $369,000. That figure was moved to about $480,000, in time for the local government elections of September 10, 1998. Up to the local elections of June 19, 2003, parish councillors were earning about $735,000 annually. These gross salaries were supplemented by various allowances or stipends, including a small payment for each council meeting attended, plus another payment to defray the cost of travelling.
Up to the 2003 local government elections, mayors were paid a gross amount of about $1.2 million per annum, supplemented by various allowances and perquisites. Given the scale of the task, the mayors of Kingston and Montego Bay earned more than colleague mayors in the other 11 parish capitals. Of course, parish councillors and mayors benefited from the facility afforded public-sector workers who receive a 20 per cent duty concession on motor vehicle imports.
Fast-forward to the current day, and parish councillors earn a gross salary of about $1.3 million per annum, not including travelling allowance, per diem and other benefits that were not afforded to their colleagues who served at the local government level, say, 20 or even 30 years ago.
At this level of remuneration, I know not one councillor who doesn’t believe they are severely underpaid. Those who sit on the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation (KSAC) recently moved two resolutions, essentially calling for an additional allowance of $60,000 to be paid to them to assist with the administrative cost of running an office.
The catalyst behind the move, Venesha Phillips, People’s National Party candidate for the Papine division, argued that councillors were unable to sustain themselves given the enormous burden heaped on them to serve their respective divisions.
As you consider the sums earned by our parish councillors, do note that they are permitted, under law, to have a fulltime job alongside their work at the local government level. Consider, also, that parish councillors attend one regular council meeting each month and are off on recess for the entire month of August. When they bawl about the thinness of the Government’s pay packet, many use these latter points as sticks with which to beat them and contradict their claims to penury as a public servant.
A WASTE OF SPACE
But consider, also, that many parish councillors are members of multiple committees that sit at various times during the week, making it difficult for them to be fully committed to the work of the people and their full-time employer.
Indeed, the best juggling is done by those parish councillors who own their own businesses and have capable staff dealing with the day-to-day affairs while they use the bulk of their time attending to matters concerning those they represent.
The reality is that many parish councillors are a waste of space, going only to the monthly parish council meetings so their names can be marked in the register. They accomplish absolutely nothing in their divisions and only exist as conduits through which members of parliament dole out ‘bullo wuk’ to their grass-roots supporters to keep them happy round about election time.
Still, many others are hard-working servants of the people who toil for long hours, spreading themselves thin as they strive to achieve optimum results with paltry resources in a thankless environment.
I know many of you will not even entertain the idea of a pay increase for parish councillors and mayors, given the poor or non-existent services rendered.
But think about it: Is there really any financial incentive for more capable minds to enter the fray of parochial politics? And if we continue to pay peanuts, how then can we fulminate when our local government process continues to attract so many monkeys? You tell me. Selah.
Residents of Price Lane and North Street protesting the crumbling sewerage and road infrastructure on North Street in Kingston on Tuesday. In a photo spread titled ‘10 stinking years’, The Gleaner’s People’s Report section highlighted, two weeks ago, a decade of neglect and scorn for the people of Central Kingston, who have been victim of an odorous cocktail of fowl feathers and sewage, which sometimes pours into their backyards.