Some opposition MPs want P29 000 on top of new package

21 Aug 2017

With a bill that both adjusts their salaries by 4 per cent, aligns salaries with the salary structure of the public service and adjusts their constituency allowance by 40 per cent, MPs will now be paid the same as directors. This elevation puts MPs in the E1 salary scale. Going back two years, MPs have been happily hopscotching from one 1 scale to the next. “You would recall that we started in 2014/15 where an ordinary MP was taken from a C1 level to D1 and we are now making an attempt to move them to somewhere,” said the Minister of Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration, Eric Molale, when closing the debate on the bill that proposes said adjustments.

In raw figures, the “somewhere” that Molale spoke of means that MPs will start earning P33 000 a month from P22 000 a month. It gets even better: for this or the next month, MPs will get backpay from April because that is what the bill provides for – that is a cool P44 000 plus. A P11 000 increment seems like a lot of money but some MPs feel that they should be earning a lot more. In the popular imagination, there is equality in the three arms of government: the executive, judiciary and legislature. While expressing gratitude for the increment, Francistown South MP, Wynter Mmolotsi, implored the principle of this equality to advocate for a future where MPs earn the same salary as judges. “What is wrong with paying a member of parliament a salary that is equal to that which is paid to a judge? There is nothing wrong because we are this side and they are that side and the Executive is on the other side. Our governance system is such that we are a three-tier system,” Mmolotsi said. That sentiment would later be echoed by the Selebi Phikwe West MP, Dithapelo Keorapetse: “I agree with Honourable Mmolotsi. Let us equate parliament with other arms of government. Why pay a judge not equivalent to what you pay a member of parliament? When we say that there are three arms of government, equal in their jurisdictions, let us also see that reflecting in remuneration.”

To be remunerated like judges, MPs would have to be elevated to the F0 scale. Judges get a basic monthly salary of P49 000, P13 500 housing allowance, P13 000 scarce skill allowance, P1200 entertainment allowance, P200 robing allowance and 90 percent reimbursement for telephone, water and electricity bills. With regard to the latter, judges pay the bills and claim 90 percent of such expense afterwards. After tax, the take-home pay for a judge is around P62 000. The camaraderie on this issue was such that an opposition MP could have crossed the floor and bear-hugged a ruling party and so there was no counterargument against why judges and MPs should earn the same amount of money. One issue that some would possibly raise if there is a sure movement in the direction Mmolotsi and Keorapetse pointed to is that becoming a judge cannot be compared to becoming an MP. While there are MPs who are highly educated (Mmadinare MP, Kefentse Mzwinila has four degree from Yale University in the United States), one needs little more than a birth certificate and a valid copy of national identity card to become an MP. On the other hand, being a judge requires years of legal training and practice. While it may not be rigorously enforced judging by credible reports of judgements taking long to be handed down, there is a scientifically-determined level of productivity expected of judges. There is no such requirement for MPs. With absolutely no fanfare, another group of legislators at the National Assembly has – in the direct translation of a Setswana saying - also been licked by a python.

Earlier this year members of Ntlo ya Dikgosi benefitted from a category-wide, if limited salary increment. Supreme traditional leaders – being regents and dikgosi proper - from the historically privileged eight tribes (Barolong, Bangwaketse, Balete, Batlokwa, Bakwena, Bakgatla, Bangwato and Batawana) were elevated from D1 to E2. Their deputies were elevated from D2 to D1, senior chief’s representatives were elevated from D3 to D2, chief’s representatives were elevated from C1 to D4. Outside the house, headmen of record were elevated from C2 to C1 and headmen of arbitration were elevated from B3 to B2. The limitation is in the form of allowances for the senior positions not being increased. The salary increment for MPs also serves another purpose that was articulated by Mmolotsi. Lamenting the underpayment of MPs at some point in the past, then Tonota MP, Pono Moatlhodi, said that once out of office, MPs become so poor that they keep body and soul together by moving from one grieving homestead to the next to get free meals. Where they don’t do that, former MPs may have to do what Keorapetse stated.

“Just go and read a chapter [of former MP David Magang’s book] where he speaks about how former members of parliament are impoverished. Sometimes after leaving office they go to the Minister of Local Government and Rural Development to ask to be nominated as Specially Elected Councillors because they have retired into poverty. It is a sad story,” the future former MP said. Mmolotsi said something quite profound about how society views the poor in general. “We know that most of Batswana will give you respect if they think you have something. If they realize - like they have realized in some instances that MPs are paupers - the level of respect actually goes down because they think we are destitute. That is why I think if we want to preserve the dignity of this parliament and of councillors, we ought to ensure that we at least pay them something that will make them deserve to be respected by the people they represent,” the MP said.