There has recently been an issue trending in print, broadcast and social media about politicians increasing their salaries and allowances.
Some people are incensed and seek to portray Members of Parliament (MPs) as untrustworthy, avaricious and self-serving. On the other hand, other Batswana are shocked at how much their political leaders are getting as monthly remuneration. In fact some are surprised that their political leaders are among the lowest paid in the region and that they don’t have car and housing allowances.
Before Parliament adjourned in April, four Bills were fast tracked as they were tabled and adopted by Parliament on Thursday April 9, 2015. The Minister of Justice Defence and Security tabled the Judicial Services (Amendment) Bill No. 5 of 2015 to amend the Judicial Services Act to add the 6% salary or inflationary adjustment to the concerned judicial officers. The Assistant Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration tabled three Bills namely, Specified Offices (Salaries and Allowances) (Amendment) Bill, 2015, No 6 of 2015 to amend the Specified Offices (Salaries and Allowances) Act; Ntlo Ya Dikgosi (Salaries and Allowances) (Amendment) Bill, No 7 of 2015 to amend the Ntlo Ya Dikgosi (Salaries and Allowances) Act; and the National Assembly (Salaries and Allowances) (Amendment) Bill, 2015, No. 8 of 2015 to amend the National Assembly (Salaries and Allowances) Act. The presentation of the four Bills was pursuant to Parliament Standing Orders permitting urgency in dealing with Bills. All the Bills aforementioned except the one on National Assembly salaries had to do with 6% increment awarded by the government after negotiations with trade unions. The Bills were discussed by MPs at the General Assembly where debates ensued and common ground was found. Notwithstanding some arguments, albeit constructive and cordial, at the General Assembly, the decision to fast track the Bills was by and large a decision of the collective. The Bill, now an Act, on MPs salaries, was debated extensively with near consensus that MPs are poorly paid and that their conditions of service are generally poor and have to be reviewed. What was done was neither a salary increment nor a review of conditions of service of MPs. The salaries were properly fit into government salary scales to correct the anomaly that existed at the time and the net effect was a slight increase on what MPs are paid.
In Botswana, there is a mistaken perception that politicians are heftily paid, hence the common Setswana saying when one runs for public office, “o bata go ja,” meaning they want to eat. Politicians, especially councillors and legislators are not well paid and are in a pathetic financial situation. The situation is so bad that there are reports that some of Botswana politicians can barely survive. Currently, some MPs are indebted from 2014 campaigns expenditure. Some are being pursued by deputy sheriffs with court orders that they must pay or be auctioned while others have been blacklisted by creditors. A Botswana MP cannot afford a decent house and a car with their monthly salary and a few little allowances and an MP recently quit the house for greener pastures.
The salaries and allowances are pitilessly paltry that a good number of retired career politicians are categorised are poor. Some retired MPs ended up as street vendors, small subsistence farmers and some resorted to alcohol to drown their sorrows while others were buried as paupers with sympathisers contributing towards their burial. Some former MPs had their property auctioned by creditors for failing to service their loans; it has been reported that some families broken down consequently. Some former MPs have been reduced to beggars. Others, including former ministers whose re-election attempts failed, are said to have begged the appointing authorities to nominate them as specially elected MPs or councillors or deploy them to diplomatic missions.
The disheartening fact to note is that some of these politicians came into politics better off materially. They ran down their businesses after becoming public servants. It is a fact that most politicians, especially in the opposition, sponsor Botswana’s democracy from their pockets particularly because there is no public funding of political parties.
I can only think of two politicians who have spoken strongly about improvement in perks of MPs, David Magang and Satar Dada. The former articulates this matter cogently from page 364-368 of his autobiography, The Magic of Perseverance and the latter reportedly said MPs salaries are peanuts and that “peanuts attract monkeys”. Dada’s statement, if indeed he said that, is loaded and with merit. In the 11th Parliament, there are only two MPs in the ruling party who aren’t fearful of speaking out against low salaries of MPs. Many MPs fear to speak out for fear of being labelled greedy and possibly loose elections. What exacerbates MPs situation is that they share their small salaries with their constituents who see them as walking ATMs. Botswana MPs are unable to run their constituencies well because of inadequate resources and have to use their monthly income for the purpose.
If MPs (and councillors) salaries remain this low, intelligentsia (lawyers, doctors, engineers, accountants, academics and other professionals) will shy away from politics and politics will attract low quality MPs and councillors. Therefore the quality of debate in councils and parliament will remain low and so will this country’s development and its democracy. Parliament will be without capacity to provide effective oversight on the executive. That a good number MPs cannot make sense of the budget proposal, Bills and other reports they have to deliberate on is instructive.
Nigerian MPs are among the highest paid in the continent and the world. In addition to basic salary, they get a string of allowances in the form of hardship allowance, constituency, furniture, newspaper, wardrobe, recess allowance, accommodation, utilities, domestic staff and entertainment allowances.
Kenyan MPs, are the second highest paid in the world. Ghana is also cited as paying politicians well. South African MPs now earn R 1, 1 million a year excluding other benefits.