Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Too many chefs?

March's general election saw the ruling HRPP party re-elected with a massive win over its opponents. The distribution of the 49 parliamentary seats easily favoured the HRPP:
  • HRPP - 30
  • SDUP - 10
  • Independents - 9
This distribution changed just a couple of weeks later after a number of independents petition the HRPP to join its ranks. Five independents were accepted, resulting in 35 parliamentary seats for the HRPP.

The next task for the HRPP was the appointment of its leader, deputy leader, cabinet ministers and to see the posts of Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the House filled. Tuilaepa was unopposed as party leader and Prime Minister, which is entirely unsurprising. Whilst there was some competition for the position of deputy leader, Misa Telefoni held on to the post quite comfortably. The appointment of cabinet ministers did attrack some attention, seeing five new ministers named. The Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the House posts were filled relatively quickly. All in all, quite a straightforward political and parliamentary process with little to attract much commentary.

The controversy hit last week however, with Tuilaepa's announcement of the creation of twenty Associate Minister positions. The standard annual salary for a member of parliament is in the order of $45,000 WST. Ministers, the Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the House, by virtue of their additional parliamentary responsibilities, earn roughly twice as much. By appointing every remaining HRPP parliamentary member to the position of Associate Minister, he effectively brought their salaries into step with those of their Ministerial colleagues. Every sitting HRPP member will earn twice as much as the remaining fourteen parliamentary members.

Tuilaepa's argument for the move has been that the work of the non-ministerial members of his party has gone unrecognised for too long, seeing as they really are assisting their Ministerial colleagues in the management of their portfolios. The counter arguments have thus far focused on the financial burden this places upon a government that is already having trouble meeting its financial commitments in areas such as health.

Is this a case of "too many chefs spoil the broth" or "many hands make light work?" Public opinion seems to be split pretty evenly, though the Doctors Association, which led a twelve week strike last year over concerns about pay, have expressed considerable outrage at the move. Can a country of 180,000 people with a GDP of about $3 billion afford to pay over $3.1 million in parliamentary salary?

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