I’ve been holding off posting for this week so as to get a clearer picture of events on the ground – letting developments unfold and new information enter the public domain.
On the surface it would seem that the PLP IS in the midst of some internal strain, most clearly seen around tensions concerning the Deputy Premier Derrick Burgess, mostly stemming from the last Auditor General report. While it is hard to tell the truth about reports in the media regarding internal calls for him to step down, and statements of support from the BIU, it does seem clear that there is definite tension.
For me, in an election year, this incident is causing sufficient distraction to the Party – and sufficient political capital loss – to warrant Mr. Burgess removing himself from the Cabinet and the Deputy Leadership in order to ‘clear his name’ and allow the Party to regroup. I believe there are those in the Party who think he has been cleared of wrongdoing and stepping down would only legitimate perceptions of wrongdoing; others no doubt worry of the ‘politics of appeasement’, that him stepping down would just mean the ‘combined opposition’ zeroing in on another target, with the same consequences.
These are both possible. However, too me, these would be the least damaging to the Party compared to allowing the scent of scandal to disrupt the PLP’s message (well, forming a message…) and developing an image of ethical action, something the PLP has decidedly not come to represent in many people’s minds since at least 2003, with the ‘palace coup’.
It is not as easy for the Premier to discipline Mr. Burgess as some commentators would make out. He is not just a Cabinet Minister that can be shuffled out. He was elected to the Deputy Leadership of the PLP by a Delegates Conference, and only a Delegates Conference can strip him of that position (barring extraordinary circumstances, but a Delegates Conference would be needed to ratify actions nonetheless).
If Ms. Cox were to take unilateral action against him the Party would be plunged into constitutional crisis. There is a reconvening of the Delegates Conference shortly, but this is more a ratification of the proper conference last fall than a full-blown conference. It is possible though to introduce motions there to elect a new Deputy Leader, but I doubt there is sufficient time to organise that. If Mr. Burgess is to go the best course of action is for him to do so voluntarily, and in doing ‘take one for the team’.
Premier Cox has this week taken the extraordinary step of putting forward a proposal to the public sector workers where the workers would take a reduction in absolute pay but forfeit their pension contributions, leading to no change in relative pay; in exchange there will be no job losses for the next twelve months. She has also offered a similar system for Cabinet and Government MPs, and laid down the gauntlet to the OBA to follow suit.
My gut reaction to the proposal to the workers is to reject it and press for a different one. This stems from my concerns solely around the pension issue. The pensions must not be touched – the fund is already in crisis (and has been for some time). This proposal will only lead to exponential further problems for it and hit workers harder in the long-term than any wage-cuts today. It would be better to accept a wage cut and maintain the pension as is. There also needs to be a full public inquiry into the pension scheme to work out how it got into the crisis it is in.
There also needs to be a radical overhaul of the MPs wage system. This is determined by a separate piece of legislation providing for the MPs to form a committee to determine their own wages. There is little to no independent or objective accountability within this system, and the current wage rates are quite perverse.
The concept of a ‘part-time’ MP or Cabinet Minister is an abomination, especially as they are paid full-time wages. All MPs must be full-time and all current MPs should be paid pro-rata at approximately two days a week (based on a breakdown of their approximately $56k salary by a 37.5 hour week).
As noted though, I think all MPs should be full-time. If not a Minister then the MPs should be in their constituency working (even if just picking up trash) and scrutinising legislation. For full-time MPs I think the salary needs to be increased to approximately $75k.
I would abolish the Senate myself, so I have no comment for their pay. If retained, as is, then they should be paid pro-rata only.
Ministers need to be compensated for the extra work they do, as well as loss of constituency work (and hence re-employment prospects!), and for them I think a total salary of approximately $120k is sufficient. For the Deputy Premier, $150k, and the Premier no more than $170k. No doubling up of wages either.
The current wages are obscene, and the limited cuts being offered are almost insulting in light of the relatively greater impact the Premier’s proposals will have on lower paid workers. I disagree with the sentiment that their wages need to be high to attract the best candidates. This is false – the high wages attract opportunists more interested in the money than the common-wealth – and the high wages foster disconnection with the masses. MPs should serve the common-wealth, not their wallets.