Bahamas’ Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis yesterday backtracked on a campaign promise and pledged to implement a pay raise for members of Parliament in the next budget following complaints about the size of freelance advisor fees compared to MP’s annual salaries..
In the House of Assembly, Minnis revealed that several government consultants had been awarded substantial contracts, which were renewed and extended in the days before the May 10 general election.
He said one consultant took home almost $200,000 a year and another was on a four-year, $800,000 contract.
“I want to put the nation on notice that the time has come when individuals are being paid by that government half a million dollars per annum, individuals are receiving contracts up to $800,000 and the members of Parliament are being paid $28,000,” Minnis said.
“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.
“I will establish an independent committee who will look at member salaries, who will look at government structure salaries for this half a million dollars, these $800,000 and these contracts signed a few hours before the election.
All of that will be reviewed.”
While he served as opposition leader in 2014, Minnis said he would not agree to any salary increases for MPs if he became leader.
“As long as I am leader of this country, the FNM (Free National Movement) would not support any pay increase with all the pain and suffering that is going on in this country,” he said.
In 2014, under the Christie administration, a parliamentary select committee recommended the salaries of MPs be reviewed.
The committee noted that MPs have not received a pay increase in 25 years.
The committee also called for the construction of a new Parliament within that term, an increase in constituency allowances and travel allowances, in addition to the introduction of grants to political parties represented in the House of Assembly.
The late Dr. Bernard Nottage chaired that committee. “Your committee recommends that the salaries of members of Parliament be reviewed on the same principle as pertains to judges and other judicial officers, that is, that they are reviewed… every three years by an independent body and that this principle be established in law,” he said.
Nottage said the report received the unanimous consent of all members of the committee, which included several MPs at the time: Fox Hill MP Fred Mitchell, Bamboo Town MP Renward Wells, South Beach MP Cleola Hamilton, Central Grand Bahama MP Neko Grant, St. Anne’s MP Hubert Chipman and North Eleuthera MP Theo Neilly.
Wells is the only one who has since been reelected. There was widespread negative reaction to the recommendation and it was eventually abandoned.
But Grant at the time defended the push for increased salaries for parliamentarians.
He said that MPs are faced with the same challenges as the ordinary citizen in terms of the cost of living. “We shop at the same food stores, buy gas from the same gas stations and MPs have not had a salary increase or review in over 25 years despite the cost of living going up numerous times,” he said.
Days later, Minnis said that his party would not agree to a salary increase, even if an independent committee recommended it. “The Free National Movement (FNM) has not agreed to any salary increase,” he said.
“The FNM has agreed to refer it to an independent committee who would look at it. But under these austerity measures that we’re seeing today and hard times that Bahamians are experiencing, the FNM cannot agree, even if the report comes back, cannot agree at this particular time for any increase when many people outside are suffering, cannot pay their bills, are underpaid.”
He added, “A politician’s position, that’s a service position. You have been elected to service and just as we had pain and suffering during the road reconstruction where the entire [population of New Providence] suffered at that time, the politicians must likewise feel the pain and suffering that the rest of The Bahamas is going through.”