“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” So thought Cicero, and it’s hard to disagree. But, according to Poland’s governing Law and Justice (PiS) party, who so far has been silent on gardens and libraries, what you really need if you are a politician or senior state official, is a pay rise.
According to daily newspaper Rzeczpospolita, PiS’s proposal include significant pay rises for the president, prime minister, deputy ministers, province governors and MPs. A new proposal is a salary for the president’s wife (first lady, as a title, simply doesn’t sounds right outside the USA). Thus the Prime Minister Beata Szydło would see her gross salary increase from PLN 16,700 to PLN 24,100 a month, nearly six times the average salary in Poland. The president would see an increase from PLN 20,100 to PLN 24,600 and his wife from 0 to PLN 13,500.
For those further down the pecking order, a minister’s salary would rise from PLN 14,500 to 20,200, a provincial governor from PLN 10, 600 to 14,900, and a deputy from 12,400 to 15,100. A former president’s salary would double to PLN 18,500 and his wife would receive for the first time PLN 10,200 for the first time.
The paper reported that civil servants’ income will be linked to a number of factors, such as the minimum and average pay in the country, the growth in GDP over a three-year period, and the Gini coefficient, which measures income inequality. Thus, in theory, since remuneration would be linked to national economic performance an economic slowdown would directly affect those in power. A sort of “we’re all in this together” or, as the cynic might say, “why pay for bad government”?
Except, of course, to paraphrase George Orwell, while all the animals were in it together, some were less in it than others. Although the government seeks to justify its decision by saying that a pay freeze for senior state officials has been in place since 2008, the opposition has been quick to criticize these plans. As Civic Platform leader Grzegorz Schetyna told Polish Radio on Tuesday: “If we’re hearing that there’s no money to give to nurses in Poland, and then, all of a sudden, just like that in the midst of summer we see a bill proposal for politicians then we can’t expect it go down well [with society] and a political price will be paid for this.”
Perhaps, but it does allow us to consider what is the appropriate salary for politicians, whether in Poland or elsewhere. On the one hand if the salary is too low the calibre of candidates will be equally low, on the other the public seems in no mood to see politicians receiving overly generous salaries and benefits. Then there are the contrasting views on politicians’ outside interests. Some favour politicians who have these interests as they bring wider experience to parliament and thus make for better politicians, while others think politicians should not be allowed to have such interests but should devote themselves full time to their parliamentary duties.
The public has generally not been best served by the new breed of “professional” politicians, those who treat politics as a means to an end rather than an end in itself, merely as a stepping stone to a more lucrative position later. Can we be sure, for example, that such folk while in government are making decisions in the best interests of the country or with one eye on their future careers?
It becomes a philosophical question; who best represents my interests, the politician who treats his membership of parliament as a job which he can’t afford to lose, or the politician who outside interests give a certain degree of independence of means and thought? I know which I prefer.
Be that as it may, even with the proposed increases these Polish salaries remain modest by international standards. That will come as little comfort to those on average salaries or those who have low salaries such as nurses whom most consider much more worthwhile than the average Polish politician. By local standards the rises will appear excessive and unwarranted at present. Ultimately the issue of general salary levels cannot be solved without significant growth in the Polish economy and that, of course, is a wholly different problem, and it remains to be seen whether the government is able to deliver on that.