What’s happened to Salaries Review Board?
Leftovers and loose ends this week, Mr Editor, as we catch up on correspondence and queries.
First off, one reader wanted to know more about the members of the Legislative Salaries Review Board that by law is supposed to review parliamentary salaries every two years and to make recommendations. Good question.
I did check the Government website (www.gov.bm), which lists committees and boards, but it wasn't there.
The relevant legislation states that members can be appointed for four-year terms, but, frankly, I cannot recall when members were last appointed, or reappointed, after day one — which was nearly ten years ago when the Board was established. It is hard therefore to tell whether the work this Board is meant to perform has been ignored or overlooked, or both, and your guess is probably as good as mine.
It also remains hard to tell what distinguishes a full-time Minister from one who is part-time other than, of course, salary. As I told another reader who asked, I don't think the difference has ever been clearly spelled out — as it should be.
Are full-time Ministers required to give up completely their employment in the private sector and thus sever all ties for the duration of appointment? And where on the Government website can we find out who is and who isn't full-time? Ditto, I think, for the code of conduct by which Ministers are expected to govern themselves. A job for PATI?
Sticking with salaries, one reader was curious to know why in her Budget brief the Minister for Health did not disclose salaries for the Hospitals executive staff. He remembers that disclosure was promised some time ago. Good point. But it was also recently that we were told that salaries across the board would be published once PATI becomes effective.
As for the audited financial statements of the Bermuda Hospitals Board, now some three years behind, which, this same reader observed, also did not rate a mention in the Health Minister's brief, they too, remain an outstanding promise.
What I can tell you is that by law they are meant to go to the Minister within six months after the end of each financial year — along with an annual report on the hospitals' operations (no, not surgical, administrative) — and thereafter to the Legislature for the information and review of our parliamentarians. As it currently stands, the House is on recess until Friday, May 15. That may or may not be a good thing in view of recent events, depending on which side of the fence you reside. But wait a sec. Fences may be our problem.
In recounting what former UK Cabinet Secretary Lord O'Donnell had to say recently about the need for greater transparency and accountability, and the critical role PAC is supposed to play, one more reader reminded me of one other reform he recommended: open primaries.
Lord O'Donnell sees merit in opening up the process so that residents in an entire constituency can vote on who they would like see as their MP. Neither candidates nor voters would have to be party members.
The former Cabinet Secretary readily concedes that the risk is that MPs selected this way are likely to be “a bit more rebellious so that parties don't really like them.” Okay, maybe.
But on the other hand there are those who see this as no risk at all, but rather a welcome development.
The upside, so the argument goes, is that this would lead to more diverse representation and less of a “chumocracy” where parties and politicians have too great a grip and control on who's who, who says what, and where getting ahead (up the ladder, internally) often results in losing touch with people and what's important to them. Hmmn.
You may think the problem familiar; but the solution, open to debate and discussion. It is a debate and discussion worth having. It is occurring already.
People are asking themselves (and others) whether politics must always be about one party capturing office and ruling through executive power, with the help of a supple backbench, while their rivals, the other lot, the Opposition, representing a sizeable portion of the voting public as well, are pretty well shut out, reduced, seemingly, to doing whatever they can to supplant those in power.
The preoccupation with political power is hurting us, Mr Editor, big-time.
Forgotten is the fact that there is also a role for legislators to play that goes beyond constant jockeying for position.
It includes keeping under review and in check the exercise of executive power, through committees like PAC, and through a far better organised debate on the Budget, please, than we currently have; and, yes, through other occasional parliamentary committees on which members from both sides end up working, side-by-side, through some of the tougher and more controversial issues like, yes, immigration policy.
Let's face it, folks, if they won't: the same old same old isn't working — and stand-offs take us nowhere as a community.