Opinion: Our politicians are overpaid

POSTED: 01/13/12 11:48 AM

Belgian politicians took a remarkable decision: they lowered their own salaries by 5 percent. That did not go unnoticed in the Netherlands where the Socialist Party jumped on the bandwagon. The party will submit a proposal to parliament next week to lower the salaries of politicians. We hardly expect Jules James to come up with a similar initiative, but St. Maarten ought to pay attention to this trend.

After all, we have a finance minister who is chasing debt relief funds in The Hague – even though it is clear he will never see a penny of it – and who has trouble putting together a balanced budget.

Okay, we understand that taking 5 percent from a $125,000 salary for parliamentarians is not going to solve all our problems, but it is the idea that counts.

This also seems the right moment to take another look at the side jobs our parliamentarians entertain and to compare the effort they have to make to earn their money as an MP with that of, say a Dutch member of the Second Chamber.

First of all: membership of the Dutch parliament is a fulltime job and MPs work five and sometimes seven days a week. Their gross annual compensation is €87,600 or about $112,000. On top of this they receive a vacation allowance and compensation for expenses, but we’ll leave all this out for the comparison we’re about to make.

The Netherlands has currently 16,734,196 inhabitants. St. Maarten has about 54,000.

Therefore, the cost of a politician in the Netherlands per one thousand citizens is $6.69. the cost of a politician per one thousand inhabitants in St. Maarten is $2,314. Yep, that’s right. A politician in St. Maarten is paid 34,588 percent better than a politician in the Netherlands.

This figure is of course only true for politicians who treat their function as a fulltime job. We haven’t made a full inventory – at least not yet – but we know that several politicians have side activities.

That should not be a problem: some Dutch MPs have side jobs too, and some are even paid very well. But the Dutch have rules for this stuff. A politician is allowed to make money on the side to a certain level – something in the neighborhood of $18,000 annually.

Everything they make above that is deducted from the compensation they receive for sitting in parliament. We hear that there are MPs who make so much on the side that they get nothing at all for their membership of the parliament anymore.

In St. Maarten we have the situation that it is not explicitly prohibited to have a job on the side, but at the same time there are no rules. That has created the greed and grab what you can culture we are experiencing. It is disgusting, but the politicians who play this game keep smiling; after all, they get the money every month.

Our Ombudsman once pointed out that not everything that is allowed is also proper. This is something politicians apparently refuse to understand or to acknowledge. We’re not even talking about the clear conflict of interest in the Jules James case – MP, at the same time general manager of a timeshare resort, and absolutely shameless when it comes to voting on motions that touch his own interests –we’re only dealing with a clear system for regulating side jobs.

It is of course also true that a politician with a full time side job like James is probably paid 70,000 percent better than a fulltime Dutch MP, because of the lackluster effort he is making as a member of parliament.

For all these reasons, we challenge our politicians to look closely at the developments in Belgium and the Netherlands. The politician that takes the initiative to lower his own salary and that of his colleagues will be our Person of the Year 2012.

The Socialist Party in the meantime, points out that more austerity measures that would affect public facilities like healthcare and education are unacceptable. An earlier proposal by the SP to lower all salaries by one third did not get a majority in the Dutch Parliament. But who knows, times have changed, and if even the Belgians manage to agree on something after having been without a government for more than 500 days, anything seems possible. SP-parliamentarians currently give a part of their compensation to their party-organization. The way things stand right now, Dutch MPs belong to the 5 percent of the richest people in the Netherlands.

And yeah, parliamentarians in St. Maarten easily beat that number.

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