Outrage over JA salary increases

Jamaica's Prime Minister, Andrew Holness.
Jamaica’s Prime Minister, Andrew Holness.
Government of Jamaica

General elections in Jamaica are two years away and critics are wondering whether the governing Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) might have committed a major political own goal by approving humongous salary increases for the prime minister, cabinet members, municipal councilors and a string of other top officials, sparking protests and outrage at varying levels of society.

In the case of PM Andrew Holness and cabinet ministers, they were granted a 230 percent pay hike moving from Jamaican dollars to JA $6.9 million per year to JA $23 million or US148,000. Cabinet ministers are taking home a bit less under new arrangements recently announced by Minister of Finance Nigel Clarke. Clarke told parliament that the government had “not changed the framework used to calculate pay for the political directorate over the last three decades. After a tumultuous macroeconomic period lasting several decades and after fiscal reform over the past decade we have sought to establish a simplified, transparent and market-informed public sector compensation system that can allow us to attract and retain the talent we need to run the public bureaucracy.”

But as JLP officials struggle to defend the hikes, a nervous Holness has back peddled drawing down on his own increase, saying he would not, after all, accept in the face of the national outcry that has stemmed from the announcement a statement from his office stated this week.

“The prime minister’s compensation will therefore remain at its previous level, no new or special allowance will apply, and no retroactive payments will apply to the prime minister’s compensation,” the urgent release said, noting that “this has broader implications for not only the current holder of the office of prime minister, but previous holders of the office, and possibly future holders. A prime minister with a new mandate could always review the position. There have been assertions to the effect that while PM Holness will not take the new salary as prime minister, the higher salaries for cabinet ministers or combination of members of parliament and ministers’ salaries would be applied,” the release said.

All this is happening as protests and outrage against the increases are on the rise. Opposition and People’s National Party Leader (PNP) Mark Golding says he is also feeling the heat and has announced plans to donate up to 80 percent of his hike to the needy and charities.

“As leader of the opposition, I must lead by example at a time like this. I will therefore redirect the bulk of the 240+ per cent increase in my pay and retain 20 percent of that increase and contribute the rest to persons in need and other worthy causes. I intend to do this until the outstanding grouses affecting the public sector workers arising out of the restructuring have been satisfactorily addressed,” he added. More than a dozen PNP lawmakers are also to soon announce how they are going to deal with the increase in the face of stinging criticism from society about financial and political elitism and inequity.

“In this context, the massive award to the political class further offends that principle of equity,” Golding said, contending that Jamaican high level politicians will be among the highest salary earners in CARICOM. “That is a situation that is difficult to justify given that we have one of the lowest rates of GDP per capita among our regional peers and Jamaica has not managed to rise out of its chronic low economic growth pattern,” he said.

The hikes come as the country is gearing up for general elections in two years. The JLP had won by a landslide back in 2020, taking 49 of the 63 house seats. Recent polls, however, are showing a significant decline in popularity for the incumbent and increased tolerance for the PNP which has bruised itself politically in recent years by way of spectacular leadership infighting.