Despite the findings of a recent study showing that Lebanon’s MPs earn some of the highest wages in the world, many parliamentarians complain that their pay doesn’t last past the middle of the month.
A lot of people simply can’t believe that a Lebanese MP officially earns 11.2 million Lebanese Lira ($7,500) a month. According to a recent study by The Monthly magazine, which is published by the respected Information International, this compares well with even the richest countries.
In comparing MP pay to the country’s minimum wage , the study found that Lebanon’s parliamentarians earn 20 times what a minimum wage worker makes on a monthly basis. This is compared to a 16:1 ratio for Egyptian MPs and a 10:1 ratio for a US congress member.
Despite this, most MPs complain that the pay is not sufficient. Those who plan to preserve their seats in the next parliament are already planning to raise their pay at the first possible opportunity.
The well-to-do MPs – and there are many – may not complain much about their income, but those who have no other honey pots to dip into say the pay does not last them past mid-month, due to the large sums of money they are expected to spend in their districts.
Traditionally, MPs are obligated to attend dozens of fundraising dinners and events in their districts on a monthly basis, where they are expected to contribute no less than $200, according to one MP. Here alone, he explains, his office spends close to $6,000 a month.
One MP invites us to visit his office at the beginning of the school year to count the number of people who come asking for help with buying their children’s schoolbooks. Another points out the window of his office to a nearby pharmacy, saying that his office spends over a thousand dollars there on medicine monthly, all of which goes to needy citizens.
There are no divisions among MPs when it comes to their transportation costs. Quite a number have taken to parking their SUV and 8-cylinder sedans at home, taking their spouses’ relatively more fuel-efficient cars to work. A Future MP nearly has a heart attack when he remembers that his monthly gas bill costs him $1,500.
MP Naji Gharios goes so far as to suggest that he is working for free. “Count with me,” he says, “a thousand for my office manager, $1,500 for transportation, another thousand for the phone bill, $700 for my district office rent, and the rest goes to social obligations such as weddings, funerals, and dinners.”
MP Ziad al-Aswad claims that his weekly visit to his home district of Jezzine costs him between two and three thousands dollars, all of which goes to local causes.
Not all MPs are this active and therefore barely spend a fraction of their budget on such obligations. There is a long list of such parliamentarians – at the top of which is Future MP Saad al-Hariri – that barely have any contact with their constituents.
One of these MPs argues that the amount some of his colleagues spend on their supporters does not justify their high wages. He maintains that the citizens who pay parliament’s wages through taxes have nothing to do with MPs buying loyalty through such spending. Their job, he says, is to legislate and not cover shortcomings in the health ministry’s budget.
By Ghassan Saoud
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