I hesitated from wading in into Parliament’s decision to give uncapped pension to any Parliamentarian serving even a single term. Knee jerk reactions are usually not a good idea, especially when they beg themselves. And this one does. After all it’s not that much of a debate. I have not heard anyone outside Parliament say Parliamentarians deserve to have their pension conditions improved.
I find Parliamentarians are too easy targets in this respect. Bashing them about for being undeserving of what they earn is not an activity lacking volunteers.
The 500 euro a week raise of 8 years ago, withdrawn and refunded, unbelievably still echoes. You still hear people complaining about it.
The Labour Opposition of the time exploited the obvious vulnerability of a government that gives itself a pay raise. Envy may be a deadly sin, but it comes easy to people. You can’t bring down the medic or the banker you feel earn too much at your expense. But you can bring down a politician so you’re going to do it.
That is half the reason our politicians are so poorly paid. The other half is they want to keep it that way. A parliamentary salary is pegged at a third of the civil service head which means that give or take a parliamentarian earns a little more than a teacher.
Those sort of earnings are not kept low out of humility though the fear of backlash surely plays a part. They are kept that low so Parliamentarians can continue to justify moonlighting as Parliamentarians and earn money by day from their more lucrative professions, particularly the doctors of law and medicine and the civil engineers who want to have the cake and eat it.
Making the laws of the land should not be a part-time job. It should not be poorly paid. A two-thirds pension of a miserable salary is still a miserable pension and exploiting the argument that Parliamentarians can legislate for themselves what they wouldn’t do for others (remove the cap on pensions after a 5 year stint in the job) is missing the real point here.
The real point is that these sort of compensatory incentives do nothing to improve the quality of our Parliament and its work. Nor does Joseph Muscat’s rather proletarian solution of giving his backbenchers part-time state sinecures to boost their income. In that case we have underpaid people doing two jobs or more equally badly, instead of just the one.
It is misguided to campaign for Parliamentarians to reverse the pension improvements they awarded themselves. It is also misguided to criticise the Opposition for not exploiting cheaply the move as Labour had done when Gonzi tried to put some rationality in the madness of salaries paid to government Ministers.
Protesting just to make politician’s lives unaffordable is nothing short of a guarantee we only get people who can afford the misery to serve in Parliament: the very few who can make it to Parliament even though they couldn’t make a teacher’s salary in real life or the wealthy for whom it doesn’t matter if Parliamentary work is unpaid.
Society is everything in between those extremes and we need our Parliament to represent the many of us who need to work for a living. Making laws is work. It takes time, effort and competence which our Parliamentarians today do not afford to dedicate to the business of the people. You’d have to wonder what they do it for. They certainly don’t do it for the pay, or, for that matter, the uncapped pension they become eligible to after 5 years.
I’m not defending the powerful. They don’t need me to do that. I’m defending the people who need a Parliament to function as it is meant to. And the people know getting a Parliament to work for them is money reasonably spent.
If we are to clamour for something then, it should be a full-time Parliament, focused on legislating and keeping the other institutions of the republic in check, particularly the executive for which it should stop being a part-time, over-compensated, 9-hour a week rubber stamp … with an uncapped pension.