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Browne defends parliamentarians’ salaries, benefits

Antigua and Barbuda’s prime minister has spoken up in defence of the salaries and benefits which form the remuneration packages of the members of his Cabinet and other parliamentarians.

Gaston Browne sparked national debate when he revealed at the weekend that some members of his Cabinet had requested a pay raise.

Many people hold the view that even if a raise for government ministers is deserving, now is a most inopportune time to even entertain that discussion as unemployment and under-employment as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic are still major issues for hundreds across the nation.

The overwhelming view on various discussion forums appears to be that ministers of government should be making personal sacrifices at this time in a show of solidarity with those members of the public who are still suffering the fall out of the pandemic.

Prime Minister Browne, however, says that ministers, and other members of parliament, do not make nearly as much as people perceive and added that even perks of the job, such as free utilities, do not make a significant enough financial impact to justify their revocation when the massive size of the Antigua and Barbuda economy – more than $4billion – is taken into account.

In support of his argument, Browne added that under-paying senior government officials could inadvertently result in unscrupulous individuals abusing their power.

“Lee Kuan Yew (Former Prime Minister of Singapore) had a famous saying, if you don’t pay your parliamentarians properly, your leaders, then you’re gonna end up with a number of charlatans. You know, people who can’t do the job, who would pretend as though they know, just like those elements in the UPP.

“How do you even justify, for example, that in the public sector you have public servants who are making 15, 20, $25,000 a month, a minister makes 10 [thousand], less than a number of public servants and you’re gonna argue that the $10,000 a month or the $1,000 a month that he gets in utilities that I should take that back? I don’t know that that’s precisely fair,” proffered Browne.

He continued, “Many of my ministers would have said to me since last term at some point we have to review the Parliamentary pay. I mean, I don’t know when that will be – clearly we can’t do it now because of the COVID situation and so on – but we also have to increase the pay of public servants. But I don’t know that we can continue to increase public servants’ pay and at some point do not revise the pay for parliamentarians.”

Mr. Browne added that if one were to objectively analyse the emoluments of government ministers based on their duties against that of some public sector workers and the standard set by the private sector, they are, in fact, sorely underpaid.

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