Vasant Bharath

Gail Alexander

Leaders at all levels of Trinidad and Tobago’s (T&T’s) society, including PNM Ministers, UNC MPs and company CEOS should take voluntary pay cuts and they should do so in the challenging economic times to show they’re sharing the public’s burden, says former UNC minister Vasant Bharath.

His call was supported by the UNC’s Devant Maharaj who has attacked UNC MP Dr Roodal Mooonilal’s recent challenge to Government that he’d give up his tax exempted car if PNM MPs gave up theirs.

The call came ahead of today’s Budget 2021 debate when the Opposition Leader will reply to the Government’s 2021 fiscal measures.

Mention of pay cuts is expected to be made there.

Under the 98th Salaries Review Commission’s report, a Prime Minister’s salary is $59,680 monthly plus allowances and other perks including vehicle tax exemptions.

An Opposition Leader’s salary is $29,590 plus allowances and other perks also including car tax exemptions.

A Cabinet Minister’s salary is given as $41,030 with perks. A non-Cabinet Minister’s salary is $33,940. An MP’s salary is given as $17,140 with perks also including travelling allowances.

Bharath who hosted a Budget analysis talk show at UNC’s former Rienzi headquarters on Wednesday, said, “I’m certainly in favour of pay cuts at MPs/Ministers’ level and if I were an MP or minister I’d so so. With T&T’s current financial challenges if they all do this, it will send the right message to the people that everyone’s sharing the burden and understands the plight of those have less.”

“In fact I’d advocate a pay cut for all of T&T’s leaders in society including CEOs and others who run organisations especially in places where staff was sent home. If I were running an organisation I’d set that example,” said Bharath who’s a consultant.

Maharaj added, “The continued application during T&T’s crisis of the vehicle tax exemption for all MPs is unconscionable. While citizens struggle for economic survival daily as the pandemic’s impact ravages the national economy, Parliamentarians continue with life as usual – unphased.”

“The vulgar, obscene statement by MP Moonilal that he’ll give up his vehicle if Government gives up their exemption, only underscores that Parliamentarians aren’t prepared to make an unqualified personal sacrifice as is being asked of citizen. If the Opposition was seriously committed, it would mandate all its MPs to cease applying for the tax exemption regardless of Government’s action. Unfortunately driving a new Range Rover, or Prado seems more important to all Parliamentarians.”

Maharaj added, “As budget debate continues today, Parliamentarians will haggle over much much more the average citizen will suffer from the economic impact of COVID in a situation where MPs are disconnected from this via their perks and privileges.”

“Parliamentarians shouldn’t only be giving up their vehicle tax exemption but also be considering a temporary salary cut during the COVID crisis. It’s easy for MPs to speak of hiring freeze, pay cuts, layoffs, and job loss while they’re removed from the harshest impact of the COVID 19”.

“The Prime Minister of New Zealand and MPs took a 20 per cent pay cut earlier this year to show solidarity with citizens and show leadership at the highest level. Members of India’s Parliament have passed a bill which, for one year, will reduce the salaries of MPs by 30 per cent to meet the exigencies arising out of the COVID-19 pandemic. In T&T however, Parliamentarians cling to perks of office with tenacious resolve.”

Opposition to speak on pay cuts

Yesterday, several PNM Ministers – Finance Minister Colm Imbert, Penny Beckles, Camille Robinson- Regis, Stuart Young and others – didn’t answer calls on whether they’d be willing to take a pay cut.

UNC MP Dinesh Rambally said the Opposition would speak to the issue of pay cuts in due course.

UNC MP Dave Tancoo added, on pay cuts, “I don’t see the value of giving this crooked government part of my income so they can channel it to their friends, families and financiers, I’d rather prefer to do what I’ve been doing which is contributing part of my salary towards the needy in my constituency.”

Other UNC members didn’t reply to calls on whether they’d entertain a pay cut including Moonilal, Saddam Hosein, David Lee, Kadijah Ameen and others.

Former UNC MP Suruj Rambachan said last term an MP’s salary was almost a total of $22,000 monthly which comprised the base of about $17,140 plus $5,500 for travelling and perks. He said the take-home was about $16,000.

Rambachan said his personal view was, “You can’t ask the public to make a sacrifice if you’re unwilling to do that. If a burden has to be shared then it must be across the board. It’s clear people will be making sacrifices. We don’t know how many contracted people will be jobless after the public service hiring freeze, the situation at WASA and TTEC may mean job losses and the $300 extra Government said people would have from the expansion of the tax-exempt category to $7,000, will be lost to property tax and other increases.”

But his colleague former MP Fuad Khan disagreed on Bharath and Maharaj’s calls for pay cuts. He said, “Why should MPs and Ministers take cuts when they work long hours for the country, sit for long hours in Parliament and take almost daily abuse from people on national matters. Plus they give of their salaries to constituents.”

“MPs and Minister should actually get pay increases for their work. It’s stupid to call for pay cuts for them now- it shows people don’t understand what MPs and Ministers do.”