June 18, 2013
MP= More Pay
The increase in Congress pay has again brought politics into disrepute although the issue is rather more complex than the 21.8 percent raise slightly exceeding the government’s 2013 wage guideline of 20 percent (while offering 17 percent to teachers). The contrast for ordinary workers is all the more glaring because they have had to suffer a rigid income tax floor eroding their real wages during 23 inflationary months whereas Congress pay was doubled a year ago. And yet this is precisely the main line of defence for parliamentarians (apart from a differentials scheme obliging them to earn 20 percent more than their best-paid employees and the argument that this latest increase was actually postponed from last year) — that they are subject to income tax (unlike judges) and stand to lose 35 percent of their newly acquired gross 46,000 pesos (running up to 61,000 in the cases of those qualifying for all the fringe benefits).
All criticisms comparing parliamentary pay to the 20 percent wage increase guideline presuppose that fixing a single flat percentage across all the sectors of a complex modern economy is the best incomes policy — in fact it makes far more sense to reward workers according to their productivity and there is no reason not to judge Congress by the same criterion. In theory members of the legislative and judicial branches alike deserve high levels of pay in order to ensure optimal talent and independence of opinion. Yet since the 2011 landslide re-electing President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Congress has become a virtual rubberstamp with infrequent sessions and sketchy committee work. And not only do parliamentarians claim a high salary for a largely decorative function — a huge army of Congressional employees numbering over 12,300 (with the 72-seat Senate accounting for nearly four times as many new jobs as the 257-seat Lower House within the almost 1,500 created since 2011, it might be noted) inflicts further burdens on the state to the tune of almost 3.7 billion pesos.
The controversy is all the more serious because the possibly historic midterm elections this October are not to elect a new government but precisely a new Congress (or at least half the Lower House and a third of the Senate). In this light if parliamentarians are not setting an example for pay restraint, they should make a special effort this year to become beacons of productivity in order to be worthy of their hire and their votes.