E. Munshya, LLB (Hons). M.Div.
Some Members of Parliament (MPs) are demanding for a pay increase. And our people are quite justified in their outrage. This is even sincerer since there is an assumption among our people that MPs are well compensated already. It is controversial to justify a salary hike for MPs at this time when there is apparently a wage freeze for all public workers. At least, that is the position of the Zambia Congress for Trade Unions (ZCTU). The economic difficulties brought by the no-clue government of Michael Sata affects all Zambians equally. That being the case, it is problematic to insist that MPs salaries should be increased without recourse to all other workers countrywide. There is wisdom in the idea that if MPs want their salaries increased, they should equally fight for all other public workers.
Hon. Catherine Namugala (MMD, Mafinga) believes that the current salary levels for MPs are too inadequate. Zambia’s popular online publication, the Zambian Watchdog, has issued an opinion supporting the salary increase. On the other hand, leader of Zambia’s biggest political party, the MMD, has expressed reservations about this salary increase. While the cost of living has gone up, Dr. Nevers Mumba nevertheless believes that this particular salary demand has come at the wrong time. There are many who agree with him.
There is obviously a legitimate philosophical discussion to be had about salaries, wages and related matters. How much is enough? We could debate for millennia on this. I wish to ague, though, that MPs should be compensated at the same level as cabinet ministers. Harmonising MPs salaries with that of ministers will help remove the incentive that seems to attract MPs towards the carrots dangled from the Executive. In our system of government, it is easy for an executive President to swing candies of ministerial privilege on unsuspecting MPs so as to lure them to her side. If this incentive is removed we would be closer to assuring a truly vibrant parliament. Consequently, harmonisation will create some level of egalitarianism within the august house. It seems, quite unsurprisingly, that some MPs demand for higher salaries because they see that their colleagues in government do seem to have better privileges than they do. As such, viewed from an economic comparative perspective, the floor of the house becomes not just about the political affiliation; it often turns out to be a divided trajectory between the privileged executive members and the ordinary backbenchers that are paid less. There is some sense in addressing this in the interest of democracy.
A harmonised salary structure is good for our democracy due to its attractional character as well. The quality of our parliament is dependent upon the quality of the MPs it can attract. If we want to attract more vibrant citizens, we should be able to pay a just wage for those we wish to attract. There is some argument by some of our people that only those financially successful in life should be able to aspire for parliament. This thinking is abhorrent to democratic principles. Parliament should not only be a place for the filthy rich. It should be a place for the ordinary citizen. Restricting leadership only to the rich has the consequence of confiscating governance from the ambits of ordinary citizens into the hands of the privileged few. In order for parliament to be a place for vibrant young professionals, it should be able to compete in the marketplace for that talent. While it is true that there is some level of personal sacrifice that goes into aspiring for parliamentary leadership, we should not make it more difficult for younger women and men to want to aspire for parliament due to an archaic and unworkable salary structure.
Harmonising salaries in parliament means that the current MPs will consequently get slightly higher salaries than they do now. But that will only be a smaller concern in a bigger picture: the picture of raising the profile of an MP to that of cabinet minister, at least in the salary and wages sense. Consequently, instead of thinking of such a salary hike as being a burden, we should look at good pay for MPs as the needed investment in our democracy. We cannot afford to have MPs’ independence sacrificed by sectarian interests falling from the dangled carrots of the executive. Most of the opposition MPs who crossed to the executive branch could not have done so, had they not had the financial incentive to do so. To reform parliament, we must be willing to think outside of the box. Salary harmonisation is such thinking.
Harmonising MPs pay with that of ministers is good for its impact on the hospitality expected from MPs. In a nation like ours, MPs are not only political representatives; they are also expected to provide financially for some of their constituents. This is perhaps one of the most controversial aspects of the role performed by MPs. And when MPs try to explain this reality, we should listen to them and dialogue instead of dismissing it.
Traditionally, tribal leaders such as chiefs and village heads, provided hospitality from the resources gathered from their subjects. So the quality of hospitality was dependent upon the goodwill and generosity of the public. In our modern society, however, the reverse seems to have happened with regard to political leaders such as MPs. Some members of the public expect the MPs to leave some financial help each time they visit their constituencies. This help can range from basic assistance of the vulnerable to helping out at funerals. And many are the funerals among our people. We are a suffering nation and we must all sympathise with each other. Members of Parliament who are not responsive to these needs are usually labelled as selfish, even if they have no personal resources to help. Most of these MPs do not simply have sufficient resources from which to assist all the needs in their constituencies. Until our society changes the narrative of the roles MPs should play in the constituencies, we have a duty as a people to listen to MPs like Namugala who try to explain how difficult it is for MPs to be able to provide for so many of our people. I believe most MPs want to help from their own personal funds, but can’t afford to do so. While there is no way that our government can make all MPs afford to help as much as they would like to, we should sympathise with those MPs who try to explain their plight. Harmonisation, in my opinion, while not being the magic bullet to resolve this financial problem, would go along way in helping our democracy.
While I am not too sure about how much is really enough for an MP’s pay, I am very sure that harmonising their salaries with that of cabinet ministers will be a good idea for our democracy.
Suggested citation: Munshya, E., ‘Should Zambian MPs get a salary increase?’ Elias Munshya Blog (July 28, 2014) (available at http://www.eliasmunshya.org)