Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Should MPs get a salary hike?

Today, I woke up to read morning newspapers and I found myself in disagreement with host of issues.  Here’s the first one.   The MPs in Indian Parliament are about to get a hike from the current salary of Rs 16,000 to Rs 80,000.   Is that a good thing or bad thing? 

For a very long time, I have strongly believed that one of the best ways to reduce corruption in India is to increase the salaries of government employees.  In many evening and late-night discussions with my fellow Indians, I found myself in opposition to most others who thought that Indian government employees are extremely corrupt and hence they do not deserve any hike; if ever they deserve a punishment, not a reward.

The Editor at Times of India seems to harbor similar opinions like many Indians on this topic. [Emphasis mine]

Our MPs clearly don't deserve a salary hike. Any pay raise must be linked to performance. But the track record of Indian MPs in the recent past has been poor, to say the least.

They have neglected one of their basic duties crafting and debating legislation. The figures for business conducted by Parliament speak for themselves. The number of sittings of the Lok Sabha has come down from a yearly average of 124 in the first decade of 1952-61 to 81 between 1992-2001, a decline of 34 per cent. This has had a direct impact on the number of Bills passed by Parliament. The annual average of the number of Bills passed has come down from 68 in the first decade to 50 between 1992-2001…And even when Bills are passed, they are done without debate since MPs are busy shouting slogans or creating mayhem in the House.

This leads into a discussion I had earlier on this forum.  What is the accountability for elected leaders of India?  Number of bills passed? Number of sittings? Quality of discussion? If so, who will enforce it? Will there be an enforcing body which says, ‘OK, you attended 120 days, you get an A, you attended only 80 days, you get a C’, or will it say, ‘OK, you didn’t shout at all in the last year, you get 100 marks, and you shouted 10 times, you get only 60 marks’.  Neglect of one’s duties, if they are not enforceable, should not be used as an argument against the proposed hike.  We may not be very happy with the performance of our elected leaders, but then what are we going to do about it?

The accountability for an elected leader in a democracy comes from the standards the society imposes onto him by which he takes moral and ethical responsibility for his actions.  If an elected leader refuses to show up at Lok Sabha or refuses to meet any of his constituency people, there is nothing that people can do other than apply pressure through channels like news and media to coerce him into becoming more accountable.  When the electorate gets disappointed with that elected leader, it does not vote that leader back. The only fear he has is that he may not win in the next elections.  Sadly, that’s the only enforceable check people have against their elected leaders.    

That’s why in most mature democracies, the qualities of a leader are thoroughly examined BEFORE elections.  His prior record, his conduct, his performance, etc, are scrutinized in excruciatingly painful detail, sometimes going overboard in that scrutiny, all for the same reason - better check him out before you elect him.  There’s no fun in regretting later.

Most Indians do not understand how their democracy works and come up with ridiculous propositions like recalling a nonperforming candidate.  I find such discussions including the one above in Times of India naïve and downright impractical.   For an elected leader to perform better in a democracy, the expectations of his constituencies have to become better.  Better checks can be made by the media, by creating more awareness, by bringing more transparency, and exposing his dubious standards, his hypocrisies, his inefficiencies, his scams and scandals.  A mature society which takes itself seriously will impose the necessary standards on its leaders.  As long as the elected leader is not doing anything illegal, he cannot be stripped of his power.  The only way he will be coerced into resigning is through moral and ethical compulsions imposed by his peers and his electorate. 

Like man like state, said Plato.  We get leaders that reflect people's cultural and moral ethos. If our elected leaders are not performing, it is our failure that we have not imposed higher standards onto them.  We should start looking for ways on how to improve their performance.   Are there other incentives for them to perform better? Is there a way we can reduce corruption? Is there a better way to increase accountability?

Corruption in India

Most officers and elected leaders are people like you and me.  As young people, they wanted to grow up to become honest and sincere workers and leaders.  Nobody dreams of becoming a corrupt officer.   So, how come we have so many corrupt officer and leaders in this country? 

Amongst many factors, which include our misplaced prioritization of goals, emphasis on worthless values and bad parenting, the most important one is the low barrier to entry for corruption.   It is extremely easy to become corrupt in India; and the societal conditions actually compel one into becoming corrupt.   

An officer starts out thinking he will be an exception, that he will not be corrupt.  But over a period of time, he realizes that it is not easy to survive and make a decent living with such paltry salary if he continues to be a Gandhian.   Especially when everyone around is corrupt, when the society gleefully accepts corrupt officers, he starts out rationalizing why he needs to take that first bribe – just to satisfy basic needs of life, like having good food and clothes, like buying a TV, sending his kids to good school, etc.   Once he crosses that line, there is no turning back.  What started out as a compulsion to make both ends meet turns out to be an exercise of long and continuous rationalization.  Now he wants to buy a house, then a car, then another house, and so on.  There is no difference between a guy who takes 5 lakh bribe to another who takes 500 Crore bribe.  A bribe is a bribe.  Now that you have committed yourself to it, why stop at small number?

If you want to root out corruption, this officer has to be stopped at the first step itself.  He should be incentivized NOT to take that first bribe.  For that, he should be earning  adequate salary to make a decent living.  That’s when the motivation to take bribe is reduced considerably. 

One of the best ways to reduce corruption in Indian government is by giving extremely good salaries to our government employees and elected leaders.  The current salary structure in Indian government does not allow a person to work honestly.  An honest officer loses out continuously and forever in all respects.  Not only does he not provide basic amenities to his children and family, he will be seen suspiciously by his peers and  treated as an outcaste.  To fit in, he has to take bribe.   Over a period of time, the motivation to take bribes far outweighs the incentive to be honest and sincere. 

In India, we call government employees ‘servants’ and I never understood why.  Many people say that taking a government job is a ‘service’, that getting elected as MLA and MP is a ‘service’ and so on.  They think that a 'service' should be paid a token amount of salary.  I think that’s sheer bullshit.  Each of us wants to be rewarded for the work we do.  And if running a country, state or district is my job, I better be paid accordingly.  I would like to describe the job of a MP a 'responsibility' not a 'service', and it is really a big responsibility which deserves a big paycheck.

A company which has a turnover of few tens of crores will pay few 2 to 3 lakhs of rupees for its top management and here we are talking of deciding fates of millions of people, handling budgets in hundreds of crores.  A salary of Rs 16,000 per month sounds ridiculously low, something that we don’t even pay a fresh software engineer.

Right now, the MPs have to depend on perks, allowances, etc, to get most of their work done.  But how can one pay kid’s school fees or buy kid’s toys with such allowances?  Not possible.  An elected leader like every other person has certain minimum expenses that require liquid cash.  And that is definitely far higher than Rs 16,000.  I am quite OK to increase the salaries even further, say, Rs 4,00,000 per month or more if we are going to get few decent and honest elected leaders who do not have to be compelled into taking bribes. 

That would be the first step towards cleansing our government and politicians from corruption.


  1. MPs should be representatives not careerists

    The trend in recent decades has been for parliamentarians to go into politics as a profession. Previously our representatives went into politics after first undertaking long careers as farmers, teachers, businesspeople, manual workers, and so forth. Being a parliamentarian wasn’t regarded so much as an actual job or profession, but a duty or service to society. These days it’s increasingly common for MPs to spend only a few years at university and in post-university jobs before going to Parliament in their 20s or 30s. They don’t so much see their position in parliament as a duty but as an occupation, and with that career they expect to be very richly rewarded with a large salary, allowances, and a super-generous retirement income. An increasing social gap has thus grown between voters and their so-called representatives.

    MPs invariably seem to want to be treated as superior than or worthier than the public that votes them in. This relatively enrichment means that they enjoy a lifestyle more akin to private sector managers and businesspeople then their constituents. This is not healthy – the politicians become utterly divorced from the realities of their voters. And it’s not surprising that the politicians take on the same sort of corporate culture. Unsurprisingly, the politicians begin to view themselves as above and beyond the voters.

    Yet a good argument can made that it is better for democracy and politics if elected representatives are exactly that – representatives, and hence they shouldn’t receive the extraordinary sort of pay that they currently do. Instead of regarding their election to the House of Representatives as a well-remunerated career choice, we should regard it as a significant honour to be called to serve the public. In a democracy, the role of a politician should not just be seen as ‘another job’.

    So... what should be the income of REPRESENTATIVES?

    - The Same as 'average income' of people to begin with.
    - Add 'free services' to enable them to do more public work (aka add servants, free telephone calls, free rides, free medical care, free home, etc)
    - Add income for being 'competent enough' to be a member on a 'committee' dealing with important policies (Make the minimum qualifications for such a committee clear... e.g.: knows about Finance or has experience with accounting for atleast 3 yrs... has acted as a budgeting co-ordinator on another public or private body etc....)

    The last point above creates a 'job-profile' to be on a committee... and this is to avoid our world-famous laloos sitting on budget-allocations-for-Science & Research.... while ensures some minimum qualifications to be on a bench making crucial decisions.

    The Committees propose... the parliament/house-members debate.

  2. http://liberation.typepad.com/liberation/2010/03/politicians-should-be-paid-to-be-representatives-not-careerists.html

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. The above blog-post speaks mostly on the incomes of politicians in the west.

    In the Indian Context... our politicians are legally paid very less compared to the average living expenses. (Though the services add up to w pretty high number).

    That said.... raising incomes of MPs from Rs 16K to Rs 80K per month seems pretty low to me.

    It may be well above the average income of Indian population.... But, most MPs have to live in cities and it is indeed expensive to get by without atleast 50K per month.

    But... there is NO WAY... a politician can vote himself to be paid like the CEO of a comany.

    Being a public representative is still a 'public service OPPORTUNITY'... and not a real career. If it is treated like a career, we are in deep trouble.

  5. Hi Sujai,

    Your blog has been very informative. I enjoy reading your thoughts and opinions. Please keep up them coming.

    I think corruption exists mostly because of greed, lust for wealth, lack of moral integrity. Corrupt people are never happy with what they have or what they get, they always want more.


  6. Sujai,
    My vote for this would be a YES, but not just for MPs for every member of the government serving as MLA, MP, Corporators, etc. Then increase the salaries of Police departments that would drive out corruption at the lower granularity.

    A salary hike doesn't guarantee anti-corruption element for the Indian mentality at all levels. It takes not a village to wipe out corruption.

    India first needs to come out with an idea where corruption at the traffic signal needs to be wiped out by better standards at the Police Department.

    US Governors, Senators draw an average salary of $150,000. Arnold Schwarzenegger draws about $206,000/year and gives it back to the State. They say, "They’re not doing it for the money. They’re doing it for the power to do good deeds." in the US.

    The question now is, if we increase the salaries of our MPs will drive the same case? Give it back to the State?


  7. The point is that if we know for sure that there is a decent amount of money that we can get as an elected representative, without being corrupt, we could have a new bunch of people who will be ready to take the plunge into the world of politics in a 'clean way'! At least there will be more honest people who will try to do something about it! That's my take..

    Anyway, it's a nice post Sujai!

  8. I totally agree that the government employees need a decent raise in their salaries.
    Right from the constable or the peon level to the highest officer in the order.
    The reason for the high level of corruption in India is undoubtedly,due to the low income levels and uneven salaries of the people.

    Some of the other important professions like teaching and medicine have lost their charm and respectability mainly because of the very attitude,that people expect these professions to be non profit.

    Who in their right minds would want to earn less and "serve" others,when their bills keep piling up.

    Not many people want to take up professions like teaching,medicine,social service,fine arts or politics,because one is expected to conduct themselves like either preachers or prophets,while their friends get to enjoy the benefits of choosing a "selfish" or "safer" stream,during college years.

    I feel,cash incentives should be given to social service organisations or N.G.O,s as well,so they take up certain responsibilities seriously,instead of on good will basis only.

    When ever there is a career counselling session conducted,I hear parents and students talk of,or ask about only certain paying professions.
    Inspite of,our best efforts,we lose out on brilliant students to financially better professions,instead of the right ones.

    One of the reasons could be,because the parents choose the careers for their kids in India.

    Well,what do say about it being a vicious circle.

  9. hi sujai...very nice one...

    I feel that this type of hiking in price will certainly bring some enthusiastic, determined young people into politics as a profession. From many years in our indian politics its more like family's profession being transferred. This hike in price should be such that the elected individuals should at least bear the expenses of their family in main cities like New Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderbad etc. We cant really guess how an amount of Rs. 80000 will seem to a person with political experience of 20-25 years. This way of hiking will certainly help novice politicians not getting corrupted if they want themselves be clean in their career. A political leader not taking bribe is totally a personal issue, even if they are remunerated with the highest paid individual in our country, we are not sure whether he works without taking bribes. The same hike should be done with all the Govt servants.

    Very good blog..like to read these.. :)

  10. Real-HyderabadiJune 19, 2010 2:28 AM

    Good job! Very good post and could not agree more. The primary needs of man are economic.

    A politician is a human being too. A self respecting person needs decent income to live honorably.

    A politician gets many guests. People will walk-in. They need to be provided water, tea and someone to mop and clean.

    Their are big expenses when you deal with so many people. Their home is a like a mall. It needs money for upkeep. Plus, they need to travel continuously between the capital and their constituency.

    If there is a real honest politician living of the current salary, he will have to shut the door on his constituents when they come home. Or give missed calls.

    We have to be realistic. India has lot of people and there are costs in dealing with people.

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  13. I was a MP not very long ago. I loved those six years. Everyone called me sir, not because of my age but because I was a MP. And even though I never travelled anywhere by train during those years, I revelled in the fact that I could have gone anywhere I liked, on any train, first class with a bogey reserved for my family. Whenever I flew, there were always people around to pick up my baggage, not because I was travelling business class but because I was a MP. And yes, whenever I wrote to any Government officer to help someone in need, it was done. No, not because I was a journalist but because I was a MP.

    The job had many perquisites, apart from the tax free wage of Rs 4,000. Then the wages were suddenly quadrupled to Rs 16,000, with office expenses of Rs 20,000 and a constituency allowance of Rs 20,000 thrown in. I could borrow interest free money to buy a car, get my petrol paid, make as many free phone calls as I wanted. My home came free. So did the furniture, the electricity, the water, the gardeners, the plants. There were also allowances to wash curtains and sofa covers and a rather funny allowance of Rs 1,000 per day to attend Parliament, which I always thought was a MP's job in the first place! And, O yes, we also got Rs 1 crore a year (now enhanced to Rs 2 crore) to spend on our constituencies. More enterprising MPs enjoyed many more perquisites best left to your imagination. While I was embarrassed being vastly overpaid for the job I was doing, they kept demanding more.

    Today, out of 543 MPs in Lok Sabha, 315 are crorepatis. That's 60%. 43 out of the 54 newly elected Rajya Sabha MPs are also millionaires. Their average declared assets are over Rs 25 crore each. That's an awfully wealthy lot of people in whose hands we have vested out destiny. The assets of your average Lok Sabha MP have grown from Rs 1.86 crore in the last house to Rs 5.33 crore. That's 200% more. And, as we all know, not all our MPs are known to always declare all their assets. Much of these exist in a colour not recognised by our tax laws. That's fine, I guess. Being a MP gives you certain immunities, not all of them meant to be discussed in a public forum.

  14. If you think it pays to be in the ruling party, you are dead right: 7 out of 10 MPs from the Congress are crorepatis. The BJP have 5. MPs from some of the smaller parties like SAD, TRS and JD (Secular) are all crorepatis while the NCP, DMK, RLD, BSP, Shiv Sena, National Conference and Samajwadi Party have more crorepatis than the 60% average. Only the CPM and the Trinamool, the two Bengal based parties, don't field crorepatis. The CPM has 1crorepati out of 16 MPs; the Trinamool has 7 out of 19. This shows in the state-wise average. West Bengal and Kerala have few crorepati MPs while Punjab and Delhi have only crorepati MPs and Haryana narrowly misses out on this distinction with one MP, poor guy, who's not a crorepati.

    Do MPs become richer in office? Sure they do. Statistics show that the average assets of 304 MPs who contested in 2004 and then re-contested last year grew 300%. And, yes, we're only talking about declared assets here. But then, we can't complain. We are the ones who vote for the rich. Over 33% of those with assets above Rs 5 crore won the last elections while 99.5% of those with assets below Rs 10 lakhs lost! Apart from West Bengal and the North East, every other state voted for crorepati MPs. Haryana grabbed first place with its average MP worth Rs 18 crore. Andhra is not far behind at 16.

    But no, this is not enough for our MPs. It's not enough that they are rich, infinitely richer than those who they represent, and every term makes them even richer. It's not enough that they openly perpetuate their families in power. It's not enough that all their vulgar indulgences and more are paid for by you and me through back breaking taxes. It's not enough that the number of days they actually work in Parliament are barely 60 in a year. The rest of the time goes in squabbling and ranting. Now they want a 500% pay hike and perquisites quadrupled. The Government, to buy peace, has already agreed to a 300% raise but that's not good enough for our MPs. They want more, much more.

    And no, I'm not even mentioning that 150 MPs elected last year have criminal cases against them, with 73 serious, very serious cases ranging from rape to murder. Do you really think these people deserve to earn 104 times what the average Indian earns?


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