Saturday, July 11, 2020

Will paying our politicians more make them any better?

BY VICTOR BAATWENG

It is possibly old news that our Members of Parliament have once again hiked their salaries against the will of some of their electorates. Yes some electorates are not happy that MPs from the ruling and opposition parties united to get themselves a hefty 15 percent wage hike.

The social media – which usually give a glimpse of what’s going on in the minds of the citizens of this country, was abuzz with comments either for or against the increase even three days later after the passing of the Bill.

Those arguing from the MPs side of the corner maintain that many smart Batswana folks spurn political offices since they presents too much frustration for too little compensation.

But there are those who believe that the increase will do little to improve how much effort politicians put into their jobs. They maintain that the difference will remain the same and question whether being politician is servant-hood or a profession.

In our view the public debate that was held on this matter should not just end on Twitter or Facebook. It should be a motivation to our academics to consider a carrying a localised study on politicians’ remuneration. Such study could examine whether salaries affect who enters politics, the characteristics of elected politicians, and their legislative performance.

Infact if our legislatures were not selfish and greedy they could have ensured that a study of such nature ÔÇô by an independent research firm such as BIDPA is carried before they embark on such a costly exercise of not just increasing their salaries but also raising their salaries grades (structure) . The MPs should have waited until a time where there is empirical evidence or findings that suggest that increases in their wages are likely to make them more accountable to electorate ÔÇô which is what the nation need most at this juncture.

As it stands we have an overload of failure in the current crop of politicians at both council chambers and national assembly. Our politicians have since mastered the ability to take a public shaming – for weeks at most, and suffer no consequences thereafter. That perhaps explains why an incumbent junior minister and a councillor of the Botswana Democratic Party could still find themselves as “representatives of people” post 2019 elections after their party voted them as candidates despite the sex scandal relating to a teenager that they were implicated in. This is strange evolution for politicians that we continue to experience in this country. It does not come as a surprise when the day to debate  a Bill relating to their salaries finally came, none of the MPs present in the house was willing to make a small move. None took a “smoke-break, tea-break” with ease or even go out of the parliamentary building for natural fresh air. Yet on other normal days collapsing a quorum by MPs is as easy as their failure to draw up socio-economic policies and laws that would help the masses of this country. Recent empirical evidence suggests that leaders play an important role in enacting the right policies and affecting economic performance (Besley, Persson, and Sturm 2007; Jones and Olken 2005).

The kind of behaviour portrayed by some of our leaders this past week is surely in line with the trend in recent decades where politicians including our MPs go into politics and act as if it is some sort of profession. Sweet or maybe bitter reminder: Instead of regarding their election to Parliament as a “well-remunerated” career choice, they should join the nation in regarding it as a significant honour to be called to serve the public. Truth be-told our Parliament is full of incompetent members rendering them useless or of little value to our nation. Of course there are a few of them who know why they are in that building. We applaud them and encourage them to keep toeing that line. They should not let the corrupted ones corrupt their considerate minds.

Indeed this week’s misfortune at Parliament reminded us that politicians have a variety of motivations for holding public office. In the current crop of MPs, one can name a few who have desire to implement their preferred policies because of ideology or to satisfy special interest groups. As for many others, monetary rewards seem to be the principal motivation. That is why even perennial absentees made it to Parliament on Wednesday ÔÇô the “ayes” had it.

In justifying their salaries increment some of the MPs went as far as comparing their remuneration to that of their peers in the region.

The key question that we need to ask ourselves is whether our current crop of MPs can be matched to those in the real world where this high profile job expose them (and their families by extension) to high level stress, relentless criticism from the public, and burdensome levels of personal scrutiny. This comparison should be in the form of legislation either drafted or passed and the impact of such laws on the lives of Batswana. In their self and misled-assessment, are our MPs are suggesting that their inefficiencies as displayed by their failure to do basic things such forming a quorum is good enough to be rewarded with salaries hike.

Assuming that the answer to this key question is YES, then any reasonable person would agree that our MPs must be compensated in proportion to the demands of their job.

If the answer is NO, which we believe is the case, then there is no need to attack those who say that our MPs this past week simply rewarded themselves for being inefficient. We say this with authority because most of our MPs, more especially those of the ruling party are spineless. When it comes to addressing “bread and butter” issues that affect ordinary Batswana they chicken-out. Just over a year ago workers at one of the leading retailers (Choppies Enterprise Limited) in the country went on a half-day strike. They were later fired. To date none of the MPs can come forth and say they know the whereabouts of such young Batswana. Yet all of our MPs know the plight of Choppies workers and that of the private companies’ working class in general. None of our MPs is making any effort to ensure that the urgency that they used to hike their salaries is used address the labour problems faced by Batswana not just at Choppies. The matter has been treated as just one of those stories that can be carried in newspapers and radio stations and that should be kept under the carpet thereafter. None of the legislatures finds it in their heart to face the so called investors to treat the Batswana workers with human dignity they deserve. A few months ago when one of them – Shaun Nthaile, to his credit, raised the issue of reviewing the current minimum wage most of them looked the other way.  The portrayed him as a mad man – such a shame act by the so called representatives of the people.

We all know that open economies and free markets pay for talent and smart, wealthy firms make sure to lure as much of it as they can. If the same rule was to apply even in our political offices “recruitment” would the current crop of MPs be competitive enough? Put differently, would paying our MPs make them any better? Will it make them any good legislatures/best representatives of the people? How many of them would survive staying in that house? These are just rhetoric questions but the #Bottomline is that our MPs should match their salaries to their performance, not to that of their global peers.

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Sunday Standard July 5 – 11

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of July 5 - 11, 2020.