For those who find graphs as indecipherable as Latin, let me help you. This graph by The Economist magazine simply illustrates the salaries of Lawmakers around the world as a ratio to the GDP per person. African nations rank high, with the ‘Giant of Africa’ taking the highest by an astronomically wide margin of $189 000 (about 30,500,000) . The Nigerian lawmaker receives 116 times the country’s GDP per capita. To put this in a cross-continental perspective, the average Nigerian lawmaker earns more than the President of the United States. Who’s shocked? Surprisingly, this figure vastly underestimates the total amount of a Senator’s earning. A number of bonuses and allowances (Free air travel, accommodation, health care, newspaper allowance ,hardship allowance and many other random allowances) are not considered…neither is the vast amount of money garnered through bribery and other illegal transactions…allegedly, of course. 🙂
Present indolent conditions in Nigeria fuel such wonton disparity between the average Nigerian and the Lawmaker. In a society where the private sector remains immature, people predictably head for the literally greener pastures of politics and public service. Given the current corrupt-laden atmosphere, the competition for such positions is predictably vicious and corrupt. High salaries are not necessarily a cause of corruption within this sector. The graph shows countries like Australia, Singapore and Canada with lawmaker earnings similar to ours, but with lesser disparity in their ratio of GDP Per Person and lesser corruption. In fact, lawmakers in several countries earn high salaries as a disincentive to corrupt practices. Nations like Singapore successfully apply this rational to checkmate the economic incentive to engage in corruption. However, we wouldn’t have tales of twisted politicians in Nigeria if high salaries were the panacea to corruption, would we? Inversely, drastically reducing the earnings of Nigerian lawmakers might only worsen corruption, as it would simply make them susceptible to external monetary influence. So how do we address this salary conundrum?
The Economist magazine passingly suggests tying salaries to GDP. As much as I love the idea of using monetary incentives, it has a glaring weakness: GDP is an inaccurate measure of economic development. Nigeria serves as a perfect example of a country where GDP rises, but development indicators fall: our HDI consisting of health, literacy level and life expectancy plummets. A better salary anchor might be the inequality gap. As inequality rises, salaries fall and vice versa. Such anchoring intends to change the incentive of lawmakers to that of economic development. If inequality falls, the glaring gap in the ratio of GDP falls too. On the flip side of the coin, the inability to operate under such an anchor could easily push them to engage in other corrupt activities outside of the salary structure. However, this system turns out to be theoretical and frankly unachievable. Hell will freeze over before Nigerian lawmakers subject themselves to such a constraining system. As long as those making the rules get to decide how it applies to them, the rules will always be to their benefit.
As with almost every post done, I reiterate on the importance of a system/structure. A three-prong approach of salary anchoring, enforceable anti-corruption measures, and stronger citizen/civil society participation could curb the excesses of Government. By ‘tackling both the policing and financial factors of corruption, Singapore shifted the payoff of corrupt activity from a low risk, high reward to high risk, low reward’. Also, Kenyan MPs were recently curtailed by public uproar after attempting to raise their salary from $75,000 to $120,000 a year.
Current flames of indignant passions arising from the citizens towards the girl child marriage brouhaha have to be amplified and channeled towards these seemingly less toxic misbehaviors of our Lawmakers and Government at large. In the meantime, let’s ponder on the fact that 35 of these Senators have no bills to show for the last 2 years in office. Or in another perspective, consider that we pay approximately N32,250,000 ($200,000) yearly to those who managed to let Senator Yerima bring confusion to the constitution, thanks to their incomprehension of the law. Given such poor track record, no sane nation should have them as the highest paid lawmakers in the world… I wonder what that says about our nation.