Canadian doctors protest pay rise while Nigerian lawmakers defend theirs
“The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed”- Mahatma Gandhi
Wonders, they say, will never end. About two weeks ago, a story about a group of Quebec doctors in Canada rejecting a proposed pay raise garnered international attention and wowed the international community.
Around the same time, Senator Shehu Sani revealled that the monthly allowance of a Nigerian senator gross around N13.8million.
Apart from the monthly package, each senator is given the opportunity to execute constituency projects to the tune of N200 million per annum.
However, Sani’s disclosure does not cover a senator’s allowances for cars, housing, wardrobe, furniture, etc, running to several millions of naira.
With this recent disclosure, it is now firmly ascertained than a Nigerian senator receives 767 times the basic minimum wage (N18, 000) of an average civil servant in a month.
About the same time, nearly 700 physicians signed a petition demanding the cancellation of pay raises for Quebec physicians. The Canadian doctors protested that they were being paid too much (yes, too much). The physicians’ group said it could not in good conscience accept pay raises when working conditions remained difficult for others.
The petition letter reads: “We, Quebec doctors, who believe in a strong public system, oppose the recent salary increases negotiated by our medical federations.
“We are asking that the salary increases granted to physicians be cancelled and that the resources of the system be better distributed for the good of the health care workers and to provide health services worthy to the people of Quebec.”
The group said members were offended and shocked that they would receive raises when nurses, clerks and other professionals are struggling and facing very difficult working conditions. They felt appalled by lack of access to required services by patients and the nagging disinterest of the government in the total wellbeing of other professionals.
Bizarrely, this petition didn’t originate from the general populace, but among the physicians themselves. The news, naturally, elicited plenty of positive responses. The Washington Post called the move “utterly Canadian.”
It is poignant to know that these Canadian doctors actually deserve the pay rise. In Canada, it is worth remembering that physicians often spend more than a decade on post-secondary education, while accruing an average debt of nearly $100,000.
Once licensed, they are categorised as independent contractors and are, therefore, not eligible for the same pensions and benefits, such as drug coverage and maternity leave, as other public employees.
If the doctors could term their own pay increase as “indecent,” then I wonder what kind of description could be used for the unsustainable allowances for our legislators.
I want to categorically say that I am openly ashamed of our reward system in Nigeria. Through our lopsided reward system, we have perpetuated decadence and eulogised impunity. We are a nation of victims; victims of a poor reward system.
Nigerian legislators have over time been associated with jumbo pay, surreptitious allowances and ‘scandalous constituency fraud’ repackaged and re-named constituency allowances. Can we justify the constituency allowance collected by the Nigerian lawmakers?
Our system is plagued by selfish politicians, who would rather milk the nation dry than have any part of their allowances negotiated for the benefit of the populace.
It is no news that Nigeria has the highest paid legislature in the world.
It is pitiable to note that the Nigerian constitution even stipulates that they shall be entitled to sit for 181 days out of 365 days. Literally, according to work ethics, they should be on part-time more or less.
Tactically, an average Nigerian lawmaker sits for two weeks, and then goes on recess. Imagine paying a Nigerian senator a lump sum of N13.8 million just for two weeks.
Over the years, we have experienced draconian cut in our budgets for education, health and other areas that are pertinent to national development, but never to the bogus amount allocated to the National Assembly.
Until our elected officials prove that they will invest taxpayer money wisely and demonstrate robust returns on their bogus allowances, then they should take a selfless cue from the Canadian doctors and initiate a petition for a cut in their salaries and allowances.
I have initiated a petition hashtag on twitter, called #CutDownLegislatorsBogusAllowances, and want Nigerians to join this campaign against impunity in the hallowed chambers.
We will need selfless tradeoffs to rescue our beleaguered nation. In 2012, the government of Senegal made a very tough decision to save the lives of many citizens ravaged by flood and left homeless by scrapping the country’s upper legislative arm, as the West African country struggled to deal with the crisis caused by torrential rainfall.
On September 12, that year, members of parliament voted overwhelmingly to scrap the country’s considerably new bicameral system of government and return to a unicameral chamber.
Consequently, the 13-year-old bicameral system was scrapped, bringing the political careers of 100 senators to an end.
The Congress also abolished the post of vice president, with the full backing of President Macky Sall.
Imagine a country scrapping its senate to save money and help flood victims.
In 2013, the Egyptian upper legislative arm was abolished. The 33-year-old Shura Council was dissolved to conserve the national reserve.
The proposal was welcomed by a wide array of political figures, who argued that the body was toothless and had squandered state funds.
Several other countries, such as Croatia (2001), Denmark (1953), Greece (1935), Hungary and South Korea (1960), Peru (1992), Portugal (1926), Sweden (1970), Turkey (1980), Venezuela (1999) and Mauritania (2017) once had upper houses, but abolished them to adopt a sustainable unicameral system.
If Nigeria’s National Assembly is standing for the masses, they must review their bogus allowances. The issue of multiple pensions for the lawmakers must also be looked into.
Lawmakers at the state level should take a cue from Kwara and Kano states Assemblies in amending the law that provides pension and gratuity for former governors and their deputies presently holding political offices.
This will reduce unnecessary spending of public funds through payment to such former office holders who are also holding political offices after their tenures.
We must find ways to reduce stifling overspending of public funds to enable states execute projects that are of benefits to the public.
The Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), which is saddled with the responsibility of making provision for the salaries and allowances of political office holders in executive and legislative offices, must look into this fiscal anomaly.
In the United Kingdom (UK), there is the Independent Parliamentary Standard Authority, which fixes the salary of every legislator in the UK. So, if you are a legislator in London or a legislator in Sunderland, your salaries are different. So also are your constituency allowances, as it is a reflection of the average payout within the place you represent.
RMAFC must stand up to its task and act as a fair umpire in fixing the salaries and allowances of political office holders.
We need a vibrant reward system, because there is something institutionally wrong with our current reward system. The best systems reward ideas, novel initiatives and problem-solving.
As a fall-out of our poor reward and value system, our leaders have become agents of mass corruption. Corruption has rendered our structural institutions impotent.
I believe strongly that if we make necessary adjustment in our reward system and re-prioritise our values, corruption will die automatically.
Nigeria’s democracy is surely one of the most expensive to run. The jumbo allowance of Nigerian legislators is obviously unsustainable, profligate and wasteful. For us to minimise our capacity for extravagant spending, we need to start from the top; we need to regulate spending in ‘high places’- the hallowed chambers of the National Assembly for a start.
Our leaders and political office holders must show the example for productive and disciplined spending styles. We must stop wasteful salaries and allowances in high places.
Until we imbibe the culture of frugal spending, our national growth will continue to be decimated.
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