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12.04.2006

Now and forever: KHPG Commentary on Remuneration for State Deputies

   

A Report by Vsevolod Rechytsky, legal expert of the Kharkiv Human Rights Group ,

Over the last few days there has been a lot of publicity over the Verkhovna Rada’s overruling of the President’s veto on the Law of Ukraine “On introducing amendments to Article 20 of the Law of Ukraine “On the status of a state deputy of Ukraine”.  The essence of the matter is that on 4 April 2006 the Ukrainian parliament, chaired by Speaker of Parliament, V. Lytvyn, passed a Law in accordance with which all former state deputies of Ukraine will have the right to join the reserve of personnel of the Central Department of the State Civil Service of Ukraine and to receive material assistance should they lose their work after the expiration of their term of office as state deputy.  According to the press, since the first vote for the Draft Law could not gain the requisite 300 votes, Speaker Lytvyn put the Draft Law to the vote a second time. As a result, out of the 370 deputies registered present, 307 people’s representatives voted for the Law.

If one discards superfluous legal formalities, the essential point is that from henceforth each former state deputy has the right before reaching retirement age to receive from State revenue compensatory monthly payments of around 2 thousand US dollars. In the reality of today’s Ukraine, this means that an unemployed ex-parliamentarian has gained the right to receive a monthly income of approximately 4 monthly payments to a current member of the Ukrainian National Academy of Sciences or around 6 salaries of a professor of a Ukrainian university of the highest category, or 12 – 13 salaries of a highest category doctor, or approximately 20 salaries of a highest category school teacher.

It is also worth recalling the current salaries of people’s representatives. In accordance with paragraph 2 of Article 33 of the Law of Ukraine “On the status of a state deputy of Ukraine”, a state deputy as far as material and social day to day provisions are concerned is equal to members of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine”.  This in turn means that the monthly salary of a current state deputy equals approximately 4 thousand US dollars. That is one current deputy costs the Ukrainian State as much as eight currents academicians or 12 professors or 26 surgeons or 40 secondary school teachers.  The pension for a state deputy, according to the law, fluctuates between 80- 90% of the salary current at the time received by a state deputy.

In addition, the Verkhovna Rada provides a former state deputy immediately after the expiration of his or her term of office, for the period of finding a job, with payment of material assistance amounting to the salary which working state deputies receive,  taking into consideration all supplementary and special payments, however for no longer than one year” (paragraph 5 of Article 20 of the Law).  And “on retiring a state deputy is paid financial assistance amounting to 12 monthly salaries of an official financed by budgetary allocations for provisions for the activities of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine” (Point 2 of paragraph 12 of Article 20 of the Law). Thus, on completion of their term of office, a deputy is to also receive “material” assistance (money for the period of finding another job) and before retirement – “financial” aid (money to ease the process of retirement), each of which equals his or her annual salary (48 thousand US dollars). 

If one tries some simple arithmetic, then over the five years that a state deputy holds office, he or she will have received a salary of approximately 240 thousand US dollars, to which one should add the “material” and “financial” assistance, this equalling around 96 thousand US dollars. For the moment we will not speak of the compensation payments which are currently being discussed in the press, or about the pensions.

The salary of a state deputy over five years of office thus effectively comes to around 336 thousand US dollars. Everybody also knows that “a state deputy, regardless of his or her place of residence, should s/he wish, has the right to receive once-off financial compensation for the expenses incurred in creating suitable living conditions, or for the parliamentary term official living quarters, or living quarters for permanent residence” (paragraph 1 of Article 35 of the Law).  Since a married deputy has the right to an additional separate room, the minimum amount of compensation (given the housing market in Kyiv) will not come to less than 120-150 thousand US dollars. Thus all payments together constitute approximately half a million US dollars. In view of these figures, one can understand the peeved expressions of young Ukrainian “Rastignacs” who didn’t manage this time to join the ranks of parliamentary deputies. However it remains in question whether Ukrainian voters fully understand the “material” sense of their actions. We know at least that some did not vote for “Nasha Ukraina” [“Our Ukraine”] quite simply because they didn’t want, speaking figuratively, to give the singer Ruslana or the sentimental O. Herasymyuk ten “Mercedes” each.

At this point it seems reasonable to ask how this corresponds to world practice. At first glance all seems acceptable. After all in the West too the fact that deputies receive weighty remuneration from the state is considered to provide a guarantee of their independence. A large number of constitutions even have the corresponding articles with regard to this (USA, Spain, Germany and others). In particular the twenty seventh amendment to the US Constitution stipulates that the size of parliamentary salaries may not be increased by congressmen for their own benefit. That is, any possible increase in compensation can only take effect for a mew Congress following an “election of Representatives”.  It is also typical that the level of deputy remuneration equals that of official salaries of members of the government (Austria) or of high-ranking civil servants (France).  Very often the amount is fixed at the level of 50-70% of a minister’s salary. It can moreover depend on the degree to which the deputy plays  a real role in the work of parliament (France), the deputy’s length of service, or his or her active involvement on parliamentary committees (Austria).

However this is merely the external side of the issue. The internal essence lies in the fact that deputies’ salaries in the West equal the salaries of professors of prestigious national universities.  If a professor of an American state university can received approximately 7-8 thousand, and of a private university – 8,5 – 10 thousand US dollars a month, this does not differ greatly form the salary of an American senator or rank and file congressman (their monthly salary being around 16 thousand dollars a month).  Accordingly the rector of a US state university has a salary of approximately 25-26, while the rector of a private university – 45-50 thousand dollars a month, which is not very far off that of the President of USA (around 40 thousand dollars a month).

According to the Danish politician, Hanne Severinsen, her parliamentary salary is not much larger than that of an experienced teacher or journalist in her country.  In general, the salary of a member of the European Parliament can clearly not compete with that of an accomplished neurosurgeon. In the German Bundestag the salary of a deputy is approximately the same as that of a university professor. One could continue this list however it would be better to focus on the typical pay divide.

The spread of salaries for all those who work in American state institutions is approximately 1:5.  In Europe this figure roughly equals 1:4. This means that the salary of an ordinary civil servant in the USA cannot be less than 25% of the salary of a minister. We have approximately the same situation in Western Europe where in absolute figures state salaries are obviously less than those in the USA, but where the percentage ratio between salaries remains at the same level. With regard to Ukraine, here, as is recognized by the state deputies themselves, the spread of salaries between those who are paid from state revenue equals 1:40.  This is indeed the case since the average Ukrainian teacher in a state school receives a monthly salary of around 100 US dollars, while a state deputy receives 4 thousand dollars. By dividing the second into the first, we obtain the nationwide salary range of 1:40.

One should also note that in Western Europe and USA the level of salaries for high-ranking state officials is not and cannot be concealed from the concerned public[1].  In the USA this is guaranteed by the 1966 “On Freedom of Information Act”, and in part by the subsequent 1976 Government in the Sunshine Act.  In Western Europe the Judgements of the European Commission and the European Court of Human Rights stand guard over open access to such information. In Ukraine, on the other hand, it is futile to try to find out from official sources the size of the salaries of, for example, judges of the Constitutional or Supreme Court of Ukraine. Even after the Orange Revolution the salaries of members of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine were increased privately (the corresponding governmental document being classified with a stamp restricting access).  The author of this article was at one stage present when one of the former judges of the Constitutional Court in an ironic tone told his colleagues from the Latvian Constitutional Court about our inept journalists and how they had not succeeded in finding out the actual size of judges’ salaries in the Constitutional Court.  However a deeper irony lay in the fact that a) their Latvian colleagues could not understand why this should be a secret; b) their own salaries at that time were approximately five times higher than those of their Ukrainian colleagues; c) they were proud that they had succeeded in averting the privatization of flats in the old quarters of Riga by higher government officials (among whom was Raimond Pauls).  The example demonstrates how even after the collapse of the USSR the Ukrainian judge without realizing it reflected a certain form of thinking: two worlds – two systems.

Almost ten years have elapsed since then. However the salaries of judges of the Supreme Court or of the Constitutional Court remain concealed from Ukrainian journalists.  There is talk that at present these come to around 10-11 thousand US dollars a month. When Constitutional Court judges, at the end of their term of office, retire, they immediately receive not a pension, but “state maintenance” equalling 80% of the pecuniary compensation and other types of financial provision of a judge of the Constitutional Court of Ukraine currently in office (paragraph  2 of Article 29 of the Law of Ukraine “On the Constitutional Court of Ukraine”).  In effect a judge of this rank will live for the rest of his or her life on maintenance or a pension which equal approximate 10 thousand US dollars a month.

Of course counting other people’s money is not the most noble of activities. It is similarly ignoble to stick labels on Ukrainian people’s representatives or other high-ranking state officials. Still more so given that they themselves sometimes speak critically of themselves. As one of my colleagues admitted who presently, in addition to his 450 dollars a month as a university professor, also receives 3,5 thousand dollars pension as an ex-deputy, “I didn’t do it with my own hands”. It seems that it was the Ukrainian state that did it for its loyal and grateful sons and daughters.  As a result of this, we have in the country the predictable situation where the contrast between state and the public is not only failing to disappear, but is beginning even more marked.  It would be insufficient to say that state deputies behave selfishly. The worst is that in actual fact they behave in a treacherous fashion. W. Chamberlain once wrote in a small work entitled “Ukraine – a subjugated nation” that the Ukrainian people were permanently betrayed by the national elite. However Chamberlain was writing about how the elite betrayed its people in times where there was no political freedom, whereas now we see that the elite continues to morally betray it in conditions of sovereign statehood.

Observing how unfailingly the “grabbing instinct” functions within the corridors of power, one cannot help but wonder why Russia has not bought up our people’s representatives with their oil dollars. After all, if 2 thousand US dollars is how much a deputy’s conscience is worth, then for 5 thousand one can risk buying up a deputy’s powers of reason. Ukrainian deputies at the price of eight professors to one … Quite recently Y. Kushnaryov stated in a television broadcast that no constitution in the world stipulates the right of the people to revolution, while A. Matviyenko, also on television, said that the majority of federations are created on the basis of national identity. In fact the majority of federations have nothing to do with national characteristics, and the institution of a people’s uprising is a classical element of world constitutional culture (this right in various forms is enshrined in the US Declaration of Independence, Article 20 of the 1949 German Constitution, Article 120 of the Constitution of Greece from 1975, Article 32 of the 1991 Slovakian Constitution, Article 54 of the 1992 Estonian Constitution and Article 3 of the 1992 Lithuanian Constitution).

It is deeply regrettable that even after the election of the genuinely democratically figure of Viktor Yushchenko as President of Ukraine, even after the Orange Revolution,  a real revolt of the rich against the poor continues to unfold and intensify in Ukraine, in the apparently respectable form of the constitutional reforms. It is clear that calling our deputies “rich” is much less about being offensive than about resorting to flattery. The truly rich after all do not lunge at money like a dog at a bone.  The pathological love of our people’s representatives for “remuneration”, “compensation” and “assistance” is rather evidence of their former roots in poverty. This is the usual behaviour of people who most definitely did not grow up in a palace.  Yet again you can see a lord by such things. Oscar Wilde once wrote that there is only one class of people greedier than the rich and that is the poor. Ukrainian deputies are not bothered by their image, but they can’t turn down “bad money”. Yet would it be possible for a people’s representative for whom poverty has been genetically inbred to behave in any other way?

At the end of the day, what happened in the last few days could be ignored. However one cannot fail to note yet another example of the infantile nature of the Ukrainian national parliamentary system.  Childish instincts in politics are not just a weakness, but a real risk and danger for the people. And Ukrainians may in the very near future experience that directly. Having violated all conceivable procedures and rules, having trampled on the principles of their own Constitution, the state deputies led by Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn “re-welded” a presidential parliamentary Ukraine into a parliamentary presidential setup. Now it is this ill-fated mechanism which is supported to move us towards Europe..

The Ukrainian parliamentary vote is somewhat reminiscent of a child’s competition for sweets. With something over their eyes, the kiddies try to get the sweets which for the game have been hung before them on thin strings. And among the children there are a few adults. Some, like Oleksandr Moroz, have genuinely joined the game and can already feel the taste of sugar in their mouth, while others, like V. Lytvyn, more distanced and clever, correct and direct the chaotic hurtling of the little ones towards a well-camouflaged abyss.

 



[1]  The data, for example, given in this article were simply taken from the Internet


[1]  The data, for example, given in this article were simply taken from the Internet

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