Underworked and overpaidNepal’s lawmakers appear dangerously out of touch with the public pulse
Nepal’s lawmakers displayed an extraordinary sense of urgency in passing a bill. It was passed within five days of being tabled. But the bill does not concern an issue of public importance or national security. Rather, it concerns an issue that is important only to the lawmakers themselves.
They increased their pay and perks by a whopping 42 percent. Immediately after the bill was endorsed on Sunday, Speaker Onasari Gharti Magar adjourned the House for over a week and embarked on a trip to Russia.
Once the bill is approved by the President, lawmakers will draw a salary of Rs80,230 per month, up from the existing Rs56,228, in addition to the daily meeting and transportation allowances of Rs1,000 each. This means that for each working day, the Members of Parliaments will receive an additional Rs2,000 apart from the monthly salary. The revision will cost the treasury an extra Rs230 million annually.
This rise in pay and perks comes amid criticism about VIPs drawing millions from the state coffers for medical treatment. Understandably, there is
widespread anger about politicians lining their own pockets. Our MPs are underworked and overpaid; there clearly is a mismatch between the salary they draw and the output they produce.
No one disputes the need to pay the lawmakers adequately, but the MPs should not have the authority to give themselves a pay hike, especially in a country like ours where the likelihood of it being abused is high. An independent commission should be put in charge of reviewing and recommending a pay rise to the MPs. In the US, although the constitution gives the Congress the authority to regulate the pay of its own members—apart from an automatic annual rise based on inflation—between 1990 and 2016, US lawmakers voted to refuse automatic increases 13 times for fear of a public backlash.
In Nepal too, all public sector employees including the lawmakers have their salaries adjusted in most years through the budget. This begs the question as to why the lawmakers felt the need to do so this year just for themselves. Have they considered the issue of sustainability? A large chunk of the revenue the government generates already goes into meeting regular expenditure, including salaries—leaving little for development work. But our MPs, who are expected to serve the greater public good, are engaged in activities promoting their self-interests most of the times.
Nepali MPs and politicians in general have made a habit of repeatedly ignoring the public pulse. And the main reason why the public is forced to tolerate such nonchalance is that politicians are not subjected to periodic elections in the name of transition. As long as periodic elections to all levels of government do not take place, this apathy will only continue to get worse.