Criminal lawyer and former PN MP Franco Debono has come out against the argument that raising MPs’ salaries will attract better politicians and discourage corrupt practices.
“I never agreed with the argument that we must raise the honoraria of MPs to attract good MPs and prevent them falling into temptation of dipping their fingers into places they shouldn’t,” Debono wrote, describing the argument as fallacious on three counts.
“First of all, there’s no guarantee that those who dip their fingers because their honorarium is low won’t do the same if it increases. Secondly, those who truly have something to offer in politics and who truly enter politics to lend a contribution won’t stay looking at their honoraria.”
“Thirdly, if a person is valid for Parliament they’d likely have been successful in their lives, have a comfortable salary and won’t need to wait for their honorarium. If you did nothing in your life, what contribution can you give in Parliament?”
Debono argued that proponents of the argument that MPs’ salaries must increase don’t understand that genuine politicians enter the field to help the country and improve people’s lives, not to receive an honorarium.
“A good example is [PN MP] Claudio Grech, who doesn’t even take his honorarium but who dedicates it to social projects. If the honoraria should increase, then let it increase, but it shouldn’t be increased to attract better people or to clamp down on abuse. Those are ridiculous arguments. In politics, we need people who are ready to give, not people who want to take!”
A 2016 study by Euronews found that Malta’s MPs are the lowest paid in the EU when compared to the country’s average salary. However, this is offset by the fact that the country also has the highest number of MPs per capita in the EU.
In 2019, Standards Commissioner George Hyzler called for an end to the practice of granting government jobs to MPs, warning it undermines the independence of MPs and the capability of Parliament in scrutinising the government.
Suggesting this practice could be linked to MPs’ low honoraria, he urged Parliament to address the “remuneration issue” urgently.
Then Prime Minister Joseph Muscat responded by calling for an extensive public debate and studies into whether MPs’ salaries should increase, but without taking a stance either way.
A substantial salary increase for MPs was also proposed by the Venice Commission and, most recently, by the NGO Repubblika as part of a widespread proposal to revamp Parliament.
“The debate on how to compensate Parliamentarians and on what terms has raged for years and an effort is needed to reach some form of resolution both to get greater benefit from the institution than we currently enjoy and also in the hope of attracting more people of merit to Parliamentary service,” Repubblika said.
“MPs should be adequately paid to be able to live decently on their honoraria and to have sufficient time and energy to live up to the public’s reasonable expectation of the performance of their duties. This is a far cry from what is being paid today.”
As a Nationalist MP and parliamentary assistant at the Office of the Prime Minister, Debono often publicly scrutinised the PN government of the day, abstaining on a vote on the Arriva bus deal and voting against the Budget after his proposals for constitutional and judicial reform weren’t implemented, which triggered a general election.
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