Get­ting what you pay for

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY - George Davis is a broad­cast ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer and talk-show host. Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­erjm.com and george.s.davis@hot­mail.com.

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.

JERMAINE BARNABY/FREE­LANCE PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

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.

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