By Angelos Anastasiou
Seven months after auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides first raised the possible excessive remuneration of parliamentarians, focusing on perks given to them regardless of whether the purpose for which they were designed was met or not, parliamentary parties have not even tabled the issue for discussion, the Cyprus Mail has learned.
Michaelides’ annual report for 2014, published on Monday, under the sub-heading Remuneration of House Members, lists several items of compensation received by each deputy indiscriminately, regardless of the criteria that should define eligibility.
In addition to a monthly salary of €3,640.33, all deputies are paid an additional allowance of €1,945.75 to cover their social interactions relating to their jobs, a monthly allowance for secretarial services of €1,025.16, and monthly travel expenses of €683.44.
In addition to these benefits, Michaelides noted, the secretarial services and social interactions allowances are also classed as pensionable pay, meaning two-term deputies will see their pension increase by a monthly €1,486 and their lump-sum golden parachute by €83,185 when their terms are up.
Even more outrageously, travel expenses are paid indiscriminately to all deputies irrespective of their place of residence. The rules on travel expenses allowances, Michaelides noted, used to stipulate that deputies were eligible for a travel expenses allowance on a tiered basis – with those living further away receiving more as they would have to travel to the House on a weekly basis – with Nicosia residents ineligible. The rules were changed by the government in 2005, approving higher travel expenses for all deputies.
Travel expenses, Michaelides added, are paid to deputies even in the summer months, when the House is not in session.
The issue came up again last April, when Michaelides first made inquiries about it with parliament.
He was told that “mean net earnings per deputy” are approximately €3,800, and that travel expenses “cover their continuous transportation across the country […] and do not necessarily or exclusively relate to their needs of transportation to the House of Representatives”.
Since then, parliament has disregarded Michaelides’ recommendations and not concerned itself with the issue.
“I haven’t heard anyone raising such an issue at the House,” one parliamentarian told the Cyprus Mail.
“It’s probably a matter for the party leaders’ meeting, but if it was discussed there, we haven’t heard about it.”
In his annual report, Michaelides recorded the views of the parliament’s director general on the points he raised.
“Parliament acts in accordance to the terms of existing legislation, and adopting your recommendations requires legislative amendment,” she was quoted as saying.
“With regard to the remuneration of deputies, modernising parliamentary compensation is under review in the context of the broader effort to overhaul the public sector.”
Meanwhile, parties said they plan to “study” Michaelides’ recommendations, even as they disputed the underlying logic.
“This is something we will look at with the parliamentary group,” DISY’s Andreas Michaelides said on Tuesday.
“The travel expenses we get, for me personally to travel from Limassol, go towards meeting my travel expenses. If the auditor general has another way to transport us so we don’t use our cars, I would gladly go for it.”
But his sarcasm was misplaced, as the auditor-general did not suggest abolishing the travel expense allowance, but merely targeting it to parliamentarians who actually need it.
AKEL’s Stavros Evagorou said deputies’ remuneration should be re-examined.
“These allowances were decided many decades ago, when deputies’ salaries was lower. In order to avoid provocative salaries, the House and the finance ministry must, at some point, look at how these allowances can be differentiated.”
Evagorou did not explain why the House has not yet raised such an issue.
DIKO leader Nicolas Papadopoulos said the allowances should be taxed.
“This is a sound argument – that these allowances constitute revenues – and the recommendation should be evaluated on this basis,” he said.
EVROKO’s Demetris Syllouris argued that allowances should be incorporated into deputies’ basic salary, which, he said, is lower than it should be.
“A deputy’s salary is lower than it should have been, especially when compared to other salaries,” he claimed.
“But I would happily accept a salary even lower, if our proposal for a cap on government salaries were adopted.”
The Greens’ George Perdikis conceded that the issue “must be discussed”.
“My view is that the travel expenses of all government officials – not just deputies – should be monitored, and they should be reimbursed for their expenses afterward,” he said.
In October, a government plan to overhaul pay scales in the public sector was leaked, and it suggests that each post’s pay reflects the duties and status of the holder, relative to those of others. The plan is being drafted by Public Service Reform commissioner Constantinos Petrides.