EDITORIAL: It’s Time to Reduce Incentives for Lawmakers

Imagine if you could set your own salary, and as much as your boss was against it, you would have your will. That sounds like a dream, doesn’t it?  But it is also a nightmare if you consider it from the viewpoint of the company’s shareholders.

What’s to stop you from raising your salary to US$1 million or even higher? Even if you don’t deserve it or aren’t contributing to helping the company generate enough revenues, why wouldn’t you do that? After all, if the company goes bankrupt, you could just leave with all the money in your pocket and find another job or use that money to invest in another venture.

That scenario just seems unfair. But it’s one that every Liberian is experiencing, whether or not they are aware of it. In this case, Liberian citizens are the shareholders, and our employees are the lawmakers who get to set their own salaries, largely without our input or explicit approval.

Although the calls for change may have died down a bit, Liberians are outraged by the figures on how much lawmakers are earning. It’s a common-sense policy that lawmakers who are not actively saving lives, discovering new technologies, or actively generating economic activity, should not be the highest paid of citizens.

What does it mean when we provide the 103 members of the National Legislature with US$47,282,492 in last year’s budget and allot only US$44,956,471 to the Ministry of Education, with 23,687 teachers in public schools?

It means that our priorities are misaligned.

Besides draining our coffers, even as we keep reducing our budget as a result of dwindling revenues, this practice sends the wrong message. We have made it lucrative to be a lawmaker and therefore, created many incentives for people to run.

There are already at least 989 candidates approved by the National Elections Commission to contest 73 seats, according to a list released by NEC on July 23. That number is expected to shoot up as NEC officials reported a long line of individuals arriving on the last day to register as candidates. Additionally, FrontPage Africa has reported several government officials quitting their posts to contest in the elections, in line with the recent Supreme Court ruling.

As Liberians go to the polls, one question they should ask all candidates for the legislature is if they support reducing their salaries to be at a common-sense level. And no, not the 25 percent reduction that several senators, including Gbapolu senator and president pro tempore of the Liberian Senate, Armah Jallah, Grand Bassa’s Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence, and Morris Saytumah of Bomi have talked about. That would still leave their positions highly incentivized and among the best paid in the country. Taking 25 percent off US$15,000 would still leave you with over US$11,000 a month.

What we need is a common-sense salary scheme for our lawmakers – one that incentivizes them to grow wages for all Liberians within the economy and doesn’t make their jobs the most coveted in the country.

More Liberians should aspire to become job creators and entrepreneurs – which would make the private sector more profitable for business while putting more people to work in well-paying jobs. More jobs mean less poverty and all the ills and expenses that accompany it.

With a thriving private sector, new graduates would have a viable alternative to government work.

Featured photo by Damian Gadal

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