Sitta: Why MPs?
By Rodgers Luhwago, Dodoma
Speaker of the National Assembly Samuel Sitta has sturdily defended the proposal by legislators to increase their monthly package to 12m/- ($9,078), adding that the move has been wrongly judged by critics.
Tanzanian MPs, who currently make 7m/- ($5,292) per month - only 1.8m/- of which is their taxable basic salary - want to increase their base salary to 3m/- and additional allowances to 9m/-.
The proposed 12m/- ($9,078) package would put parliamentarians in the range of Kenya`s MPs, who earn a minimum of Ksh851,000 ($11,335) every month, of which only the basic salary of Ksh200,000 ($2,664) is taxed. Some of the allowances making up additional Ksh651,000 ($8,560) include funds for gym memberships and unspecified ‘entertainment` costs.
Ugandan lawmakers pocket the least of MPs in the region, bringing home Ush2.6m ($1,214) in basic monthly salary and Ush7m ($3,271) including night, subsistence and fuel allowances, according to The Monitor newspaper.
This income is still far above average salaries in most other sectors, the newspaper says.
To put things in perspective, with the proposed salary Tanzanian MPs would make $108,936 per year, while Kenyan MPs currently make $136,020 per year.
Members of Congress in the United States make $174,000 a year, which is all taxable income unlike the Tanzanian and Kenyan salaries.
Tanzania`s GDP is $16.18bn and Kenya’s is $29.3bn, while the United States GDP is around $14 trillion, close to 1,000 times the size of Tanzania`s economy.
Should the proposed increase in pay go through for Parliamentarians, Tanzanian MPs will be earning close to $30,000 more than their South African equivalents, who now earn R714,618 ($79,822) a year after giving themselves an 11 percent annual salary increase effective last April.
But reacting to the ongoing debate about the newly proposed package, the Speaker furiously described the reports as total exaggeration aimed at pursuing a malicious agenda against the legislature.
In an exclusive interview with The Guardian on Sunday over the weekend in his Dodoma office, Speaker Sitta said he was surprised at how closely some individuals and members of the press were following legislators` salaries while turning a blind eye to the wages of the other working cadres in the government.
``Is it fair to include a sitting allowance, per diem and other charges into an MP`s monthly pay? Is it also justifiable to include the salary of an assistant to an MP`s monthly pay? By the way, why are MPs the only ones targeted when it comes to emoluments?`` Sitta queried.
He said permanent secretaries, regional and district commissioners, ministers and judges are among the senior working cadres in society but you rarely hear people talking about their earnings.
``Let`s just take a simple example: the fuel charge for the district commission is separately paid, and this applies to the charges for water, electricity and the salary of his aides.
Why don’t you include all this in the DC’s salary? Instead we find it simple to do this to an MP?`` he said.
According to the Speaker, the implementation of the Five-Year Corporate Plan 2009-13 that the Parliament launched mid this week, includes employing research assistants for MPs whose salaries would be paid by the government. ``Is it logical and fair to take the salaries of these research assistants from the legislators’ monthly salaries?`` he asked.
``In the public service sector there is what is described as personal emoluments, which is a salary of the public servant and other charges.
However, due to the absence of MPs` offices in their constituencies, the salaries for their assistants are being included in the legislators` salaries but this does not mean that the whole money belongs to the MP,`` he said.
The Speaker said the allowances paid to the MPs are just the same as the allowances paid to all other public servants of such a rank, adding that all senior officers are paid per diems and sitting allowances.
He said, according to the public service system, per diems and sitting allowances are never taken as an official income of the person.
``In fact the per diem paid to the MPs is sometimes not sufficient when he travels to places like Arusha. We are sometimes forced to pay for hotel accommodation in Arusha.
Now, why make other charges as part of an individual`s income? Very unfortunately this is done to MPs only. No one is saying that permanent secretaries are highly paid,`` Sitta said.
If the same calculations were made for the permanent secretaries, he said, they would be found to be earning between 14m/- and 15m/- per month.
He said people have diverted public attention from deliberating on embezzlement of public funds and corruption to questioning legal expenditures by combining personal income and other charges paid to MPs, describing them as the legislators` monthly salaries.
``Things paid for in the office of the legislator are stationeries, water, power and telecommunication and all this costs 735,000/- per month.
The same items may cost higher in the office of the DC but we don’t include such costs in the DC`s salary,` he said. He said the salary of an MP is 1.8m/-.
The Speaker was reacting to reports that Parliament last year passed the National Assembly Act, 2008 which, among other things, improves legislators` salaries and other charges.
The new Act is expected to be operational after the 2010 general election.
Speaking last Wednesday during the launching of the Five-Year Corperate Plan 2009-2013 Sitta said the Plan aimed at making Parliament an effective institution that is more people-centred.
According to the Speaker, the strategic objectives of the plan include enhancing MPs` overall effectiveness for better service to the general public and enhancing individual effectiveness of MPs by providing them with properly equipped offices at constituencies and Parliament premises.
The plan, which is expected to cost 373.9bn/- during implementation, will involve giving Members of Parliament staff assistants and upgraded data services and constantly reviewing their emoluments and welfare packages to keep MPs and staff appropriately motivated.
Commenting on the for MPs’ per diem and allowances to be taxed, Speaker Sitta said that is subject to the change of the Income Tax Act, 2004.
However, he said if allowances are to be taxed then that has to be applied to all workers in the country and not MPs alone.
``To be frank I don`t agree with people who want allowances to be taxed. You can’t give a person a subsistence allowance and again tax it. It is absolutely meaningless,`` he said.