he Parliament of Singapore some time ago passed a bill to abolish the Parliamentary Pensions Act after a review of ministerial salaries, which recommended that the pension scheme be scrapped for office holders such as Ministers, Deputy Ministers and Members of Parliament since it had become necessary to fall in line with the principles of having a transparent, open wage system where there are no hidden perks for politicians and politicians alone.
Unlike Parliamentarians in Sri Lanka, the politicians who supported this bill had said that they being politicians – they are not employees or holding employment as a career.
MP Christopher de Souza in Parliament said: “I believe most, if not all, of us present at today’s debate would agree with me that political office is both a calling (and a passion).
He added “Those who want to serve must have the sense of duty and beyond that passion “for the nation, as well as a desire to contribute to the public good of Singapore”.
It is even more surprising, unlike in Sri Lanka, he had elaborated – “For MPs, we are in this because we believe in the ethos of sacrifice that public service entails, listening to them, caring for them, offering encouragement in times of difficulty and mapping out real ways of progress for them and their children – that is fulfilling, that is politics”. Let me also quote how he had ended the debate – “Those who want to serve must have that sense of duty and, beyond that, a passion for the Nation, as well as a desire to contribute to the public good of Singapore”. Do you think whether we could now develop politicians of this calibere in the resent Parliament?
Now, that the approval to abolish the Parliamentary Pensions Act has been granted by the Singaporean Parliament, those elected after May 21, 2011 will not receive any pension. Those who had been elected prior to May 21st will have their pensions frozen and be eligible only for pensions accrued up to 20 May 2011.
"Let me keep the general public informed, if we are to clean up our system, we may also have to do drastic changes including stopping decentralised budget allocations given to MPs, which is claimed to be wasteful and utterly corrupt. "
In another move, the Parliament had also passed an alternative amendment to pave the way for the pensions scheme to be scrapped for former Presidents as well.
It is even more surprising to learn that none of the Presidents so far has enjoyed this facility though there had been legally approved provisions to draw a pension after they relinquish office as the President. Could this ever happen in Sri Lanka – a banana republic?
I also wish to quote what the then Minister of Finance had stated in Parliament when the Parliamentary Pensions Bill was taken up on 11th June, 1969: “[to provide] for pensions who render public service such as Members of Parliament…… in their latter years [when] they have devoted a considerable portion of their working lives to such service. …… We cannot expect to get future leaders of the calibre cheap. …….Singaporeans. …. must not believe they continue to expect men of ability in future to suffer severe financial sacrifices in pursuit of a hazardous political career. ….”
In Sri Lanka the JRJ government large-heartedly enacted Parliamentary Pensions Act No. 1 of 1977 to pay a pension to ex-parliamentarians and thereby provided to include allowances currently paid to public officers on their pensions, after a period of five years, which in fact is eight years (After two terms) in Singapore.
It must also be pointed out that this is a non-contributory unique pension scheme. The average public servant contributes monthly for many decades and becomes eligible to draw a monthly pension at retirement only.
The law has also provided the former MPs drawing parliamentary pensions to automatically get their increase when the sitting MPs get a salary increase. This is a serious injustice and such discriminatory laws are not found elsewhere, except in Sri Lanka.
There have also been peculiar instances where a lump sum had been paid to those who do not qualify for the Parliamentary pensions when the law does not provide particularly for such payments.
I must point out when a dispute arose in regard to the payment of pension of the late Anuruddha Ratwatte, the former Cabinet of Ministers approved a similar lump sum, since there was a question who becomes entitled for the pension under the law.
Nevertheless, British Parliament too, have now introduced new laws for the greater benefit of the countrymen and to save public money, with a view to more actively inform their constituents of how they are spending tax payers’ money on parliamentary and constituency work. British Parliament has taken a giant leap forward and introduced – The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority – IPSA, in 2009, in the aftermath of what has come to be known as the ‘EXPENSES SCANDAL’ and one of the duties of IPSA is to set MPs pay. This no doubt was a total deviation from the past practice.
For the first time in UK, an independent body considered and determined how MPs should be paid in future. Accordingly, the newly introduced pay structure was to take effect from the start of the new Parliament with effect from May 2015. It must also be mentioned that MPs no longer will be responsible for setting their own pay in the UK – serving themselves with a larger spoon.
These crucial changes have been made despite the fact that MPs controlled their own pay for centuries. It has also been reported that MPs had held their pay at a lower level and continued to draw allowances and expenses that were less visible to the general public. This had, however, culminated in the EXPENSES SCANDAL of 2009 which did so much damage to the Parliament and to the confidence in MPs.
After the establishment of the IPSA in 2010, it is now slowly but steadily helping to re-establish the respect, the recognition and confidence of the parliamentarians in the citizens particularly because the IPSA carries out its duties when it takes up issues of MPs’ pay independently and transparently.
"The law has also provided the former MPs drawing parliamentary pensions to automatically get their increase when the sitting MPs get a salary increase."
The IPSA also introduced a proposal that MPs should more actively inform their constituents of how they are spending taxpayers’ money on parliamentary and constituency work. Based on a research done in England, it has also been found that, as public understanding of the role of MP increases, it is more likely that the public too will believe and approve that MPs deserve a professional level of salary. The PSA’s scheme has become an international standard for how politicians be supported fairly transparently and independently from the public purse. The IPSA has taken steps also to remove an MP’s ability to claim expenses that may appear to have an element of personal benefit. MPs now cannot claim for hospitality, evening meals, taxis home when working late (unless the House sits after 11.00 p.m.), home contents insurance, and a variety of other expenses.
Let me keep the general public informed, if we are to clean up our system, we may also have to do drastic changes including stopping decentralised budget allocations given to MPs, which is claimed to be wasteful and utterly corrupt.
We need to follow the steps taken by the British and the Singaporean Parliaments to restore the good name of our legislators.
British Parliamentarians were first paid a salary in 1911 and in Sri Lanka until 1970s our Parliamentarians were paid a meagre allowance only. They were given railway warrants and CTB passes and this whole system was changed stating security reasons after the country was dragged in to a war with the LTTE. The question of providing security men and back up vehicles costing billions to the government became an unbearable burden to our depleting resources and the stagnant economy. In addition, issue of tax free vehicle permits have caused irreversible issues to the country, and the economy, which needs to be carefully evaluated and re-designed. The IPSA in its latest report stated:
“We found no evidence that the level of pay had a direct impact on candidates putting themselves forward for election to Parliament, or on MPs continuing to serve. Nonetheless we must not set a level of pay that is either so high that it encourages people to stand for Parliament for the money, or so low that people from many professions are unduly deterred from standing.”
In Singapore, they pay MPs extremely well as in the case of other public servants. The Sub Committee on Members Remuneration and Operation Expenses had directed the Research and Library Services Division in the Singaporean Parliament to conduct a research into overseas practice regarding pension arrangement for legislators and they had finally scrapped their pension. Another significant feature in Singapore is that after the scrapping of the pension scheme all MPs contribute to the Central Provident Fund (CPF), as in the case of all other citizens, which had been established in Singapore in 1955 by an Act of Parliament. The MPs too accordingly become entitled to enjoy equivalent social security benefits, financial security benefits as in the case of all other citizens without any discrimination, whether you are an MP or an ordinary citizen. The CPF Act also provides a special interest rate to its CPF members at their retirement when they are no longer able to work, to maintain a decent living standard.
We must also tell the rulers to adopt similar methods to treat all citizens (including MPs) alike without discrimination. In Singapore the “Minimum Sum” will provide MPs with a regular income after retirement. At present, the minimum sum is S$65,000.
MPs have three options to invest their minimum sum: (a) buy a life annuity from an approved insurance company (b) keep it with an approved bank; or (c) leave it with the CPF Board.
If a MP buys life annuity, he will get a monthly income for life. If he leaves the money with an approved bank or the CPF Board, he will get a monthly income until his minimum sum is exhausted. Monthly income from the Minimum Sum is tax free.
Let us now commit ourselves to strive together for a more inclusive, truly democratic republic with equal rights and opportunities to secure a safe and peaceful future for us all.
“Our rulers must remember I quote: “Democracy is an objective. Democratisation is a process. Democratisation serves the cause of peace because it offers the possibility of justice, equality and of progressive change without force” – Boutros Boutros Ghali