Dr. Minnis missed a perfect opportunity to begin a deeper national conversation about overhauling our 288-year-old institution of Parliament, leaving it still unready for many of its 21st-century tasks…

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Yes, MPs should be paid more – but they must be prepared to give more once a New Real Working Parliamentary Institution is delivered!

Parliament.

Nassau, Bahamas – The timing was not perfect for Prime Minister Hon. Hubert Minnis to announce that he was forming a committee to review the salary scales of parliamentarians.

The announcement came last Wednesday in the Lower House when Dr. Minnis said, “Mr. Speaker, I only want to put the nation on notice that the time has come…. when individuals were being paid by that government half a million dollars per annum, individuals are receiving contracts up to $800k dollars per annum and the members of parliament are being paid $28k dollars…I want to put the country on notice that at the next budget, I will come forth with a pay increase for the members of parliament.” No one expected this weakly presented proposal, particularly knowing the bad economic times we are all encountering in the country.

The statement was made on the same morning of the shocking announcement by Bimini World Resorts, which terminated the services of some 150 of its employees. Those workers – many of whom are Grand Bahama residents -will have nothing to do once back at home, where the haunting images of a depression are evident.

It also came just days following the firing of some 18 employees at the Gaming Board, a day before the termination of a former executive at NIB, and weeks after a host of terminations delivered by the Minnis-led Government at agencies such as NHI, Urban Renewal, and other contractual workers throughout the service. And we have not seen the end of these exercises with advice by the IMF to slash public servant numbers by 40%.

Back in June, Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest told the Parliament that the cupboard was bare and that over $722 million was needed to defray expenses incurred by the government. Austerity measures were immediately put in place by the Minnis Government: a hiring freeze, a decision to not renew contracts over $100k, a shutdown of social services food stamp assistance and rise programmes, a slashing of scholarships for students, and the announcement of an end to excessive travels by officials, although this is yet to be observed by the frequent-flyer MP’s.

We at Bahamas Press join the voices of the thousands now watching these insults and agree that Dr. Minnis’ timing to announce a pay increase is not in step with the pronouncements of his policies. The timing is bad in what we could describe as a move by the ‘Greedy’! We must accept that, since austerity measures have been introduced by the administration, the sensible thing for the Prime Minister to have announced would have been to suggest that such a decision for pay increases was not possible at this time in light of the dire state of the national economy.

This debate, though, is a fortuitous moment for us at Bahamas Press and an opportunity to reluctantly help Dr. Minnis get over this dangerous slide in the Opinion polls by suggesting ‘…it is not what you say, Prime Minister…it is how you say it’!

No one can argue that Parliamentarians should be paid more than the shameful $28,000 per annum to commit to the business of introducing and shaping laws for the country. This is a monumental task indeed. We believe last week was a perfect opportunity for Dr. Minnis to lay the case: that the functions of the Parliament are woefully deficient, archaic, and are shamefully too primitive in its efforts to meet the modern demands of our developing nation. In short, the institution we know as Parliament needs a necessary overhaul!

Echoing the Prime Minister’s constant refrain of his desire to stamp out corruption and deliver transparency, it would have added strength had Dr. Minnis’ advisors suggested to him that by modernizing the functions of Parliament, expanding permanent research and administrative staff for MPs, creating a digitized research department and modern library to assist MPs with their presentations in the Parliament, all would help raise the levels of debates now in the chamber. This would have been well received, as it is certainly necessary.

These announcements by the Prime Minister should have also expanded on a wider national plan to build a modern Parliament complex fitted with 21st-century features, which would bring the ancient institution into today’s modern world. Our Parliament, by now, should have been made accessible for persons with disabilities, fitted with fire or emergency escape routes and sufficiently spaced for committee functions, all to be viewed under the watchful eyes of the public, and digitally recorded for posterity. Today none of these necessities exist. The facility itself cannot accommodate such modernizations. However, borrowing a line from Opposition Leader Hon. Philip Brave Davis ‘Change Will Come’!

Modern Parliaments engage special digital platforms to instantly replay proceedings from anywhere in the world and provide access to tabled papers, thus allowing public examination and participation. Had Dr. Minnis proffered the idea to bring the public along with a plan for deepening democracy, exposing corruption and delivering transparency through the institution of a modern Parliament, then his conversation to review MPs salaries would have been an acceptable proposal, underpinning his wider vision for the country. It would have played right into his Party’s narrative, and we believe a deeper debate on such reviews would have ensued. This path, we believe, could have delivered a larger plan of BIG IDEAS for the new Administration, finally.

To top it off, Dr. Minnis should have added that MPs must be prepared to work and commit themselves to these transitions in order to better the lives of every Bahamian across the country. Adding that such reviews of a salary increase would only be considered against clear benchmarks: an achieved reduction in the deficit, growth in the economy, advances towards a targeted balanced budget, a reduction in unemployment and the movement of key legislative bills annually tabled and passed, resulting in increases for MPs year by year. The mandate delivered to the committee making these salary reviews would be clear and they would then have a yardstick to follow.

We at Bahamas Press believe Bahamians deserve a better conversation on these matters, and not just the juvenile debate presented that MPs deserve more money!!! For WHAT???!

We report yinner decide!