GEORGETOWN –– A 50-year-old anomaly is being addressed with the revision of the salaries paid to government ministers, an anomaly that saw former president Bharrat Jagdeo and his attorney general taking home about five times more than a cabinet minister.
This is the latest in the stunning revelations coming to light since the debacle over salary increase for government ministers began last month, this time by a former bigwig under the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) administration, Ralph Ramkarran.
The former speaker of the National Assembly during the tenure of the PPP/C in Office has since added his voice to the public debate utilizing his conversationtree.org medium and spoke to
the disparity in the salaries of the president and attorney general as against cabinet ministers.
According to Ramkarran, even though Jagdeo was raking in five times more than his ministers, “of course, no minister dared to complain”.
Ramkarran, in providing some insight into the 50-year-old disparity in the salary scales for ministers and presidents, said it was the People’s National Congress (PNC) United Force coalition government that instituted the disparity.
According to the political stalwart, the government was at the time looking to recruit Sir Shridath Ramphal to be his attorney general.
At the time (1957 and 1964), the totality of salary and benefits for a minister was $840 per month with $120 as a travel allowance and a driver.
Ramkarran said that in order to attract Sir Shridath Ramphal, who had served as deputy attorney general of the West Indian Federation and was then in private practice in Jamaica, the PNC-United Force coalition government in 1964 offered him a salary of $4,000 tax free as attorney general. The salaries of ministers remained the same.
“Thus commenced a 50-year anomaly with the attorney general earning $1 million plus, tax free, and everybody else, including the president, earning far less at the end of 2006.”
Turning his attention to Jagdeo, Ramkarran recalled that during his second term as president, Jagdeo increased his own salary above the attorney general.
Ramkarran said that in increasing his own salary, the former president did nothing to reduce the gargantuan disparity between the president and attorney general on the one hand and ministers of government on the other, being even greater when taxes, which the president and attorney general do not pay, are deducted from ministers’ salaries.
“In increasing his own salary, the President no doubt had his eyes on his pension, which is calculated on the highest salary,” he surmised.
Ramkarran said even though under the PPP ministers’ salaries were increased around 1994 and substantially so from 2001, by 2011 president Jagdeo and the attorney general were taking home about five times as much as a minister.
Ramkarran said too that there had been numerous occasions since 1973 –– when Ramphal left to take up the post of Secretary General of the Commonwealth –– for the anomaly in salaries to
be resolved, but nothing was done.
During this period what did obtain, according to Ramkarran, is the salaries of judges, the chancellor and the chief justice climbed far above those of ministers, “no doubt using the attorney general’s salary as the template”.
As such: “This situation where the president and attorney general take home about five times that of a minister and where judges take home thrice and more as much as ministers, faced the APNU+AFC government when it entered office.”
Ramkarran said no one denies that some rectification was needed but he questioned: “How could the many experienced politicians in the government not have known that the collective national senses would revolt against the cabinet awarding itself any increases at all, much less 50 percent in most cases, with public servants and seniors having received less than promised on account of shortage of resources and with electricity and water subsidies being removed from seniors.”
Ramkarran in his writing, also queries how government could not know that fixing your own salaries from the public purse, which is taxpayers’ monies held in trust “is an abuse of that trust and of the electorate’s trust . . . that this is a blatant case of a conflict of interest, as severe as any that can be imagined”.