Opinion: MP salaries should be increased ({{commentsTotal}})

Huko Aaspõllu.
Huko Aaspõllu. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

MP salaries have stagnated as a result of a past inadequate legislative amendment. As a result, Riigikogu salaries have become relatively unattractive compared to other jobs. Considering the budgetary impact of possible raises in salary, ERR journalist Huko Aaspõllu finds in commentary to Vikerraadio that MP salaries in Estonia should be increased.

Last week, Reform MP Kalle Palling left the Riigikogu. Palling, who once joined the Riigikogu as its youngest member, had spent ten years of his life serving as MP. He himself cited various reasons for his resignation — ranging from his party's internal climate to burning out as well as not ending up minister.

It's up for everyone to decide for themselves whether and to what extent it's reasonable to worry about the departure from the Riigikogu of an MP that handled environmental and energy issues, but leaving the Riigikogu is starting to become a pattern. Palling also admitted in his departing interview with daily Eesti Päevaleht (EPL) that he believed that the quality of the Riigikogu has declined over the years.

A few months earlier, Palling's party mate, the recently elected Arto Aas, left as well. He left to go take over as managing director of the Estonian Employers' Confederation, a lobby firm for major companies. These are people from the new Riigikogu. A record number of representatives voluntarily resigned from the previous Riigikogu.

Jaak Aaviksoo, Mihkel Raud, Martin Kukk, Juhan Parts, Ken-Marti Vaher, Andrei Novikov, Remo Holsmer, Deniss Boroditš, Martin Repinski, Eerik-Niiles Kross and Laine Randjärv, who unsuccessfully tried to make the shift to various other positions before ultimately becoming mayor of Viimsi Municipality. Add to this list those people who had served in the previous Riigikogu but did not apply for reelection, such as Anne Sulling, Hannes Hanso and Urve Palo.

What I want to say with this list of names is that it's rather on the long side. People who have received a public mandate are leaving the Riigikogu en masse, or don't want to run for reelection. The excuses vary — people talk about the desire to accomplish something in a different sector; some have cited growing tired of politics. Some have also left for better wages, or also cited as a factor the poor income of an MP.

Raises an easy change

It is not easy to improve the Riigikogu's reputation, the working conditions there, the importance of the institution or the personal ambitions of politicians. What can, however, be done relatively easily is make changes to the salaries.

The gross monthly salary of a regular MP is €4,000. That is approximately €3,000 net every month. Committee chairpersons and presidents of the Riigikogu get a little bit more. These wages are supplemented by work-related expenditure compensation of up to one third in size. Those elected from outside of the capital can rent an apartment on taxpayer dime as well.

To the average person, this may seem tremendously excessive. Massive incomes the likes of which retirees can only dream. The average monthly wage in Estonia was €1,310 last year. Half of all people earned less than €1,060. Compared to that, €4,000 seems insanely high.

At the same time, salaries higher than that aren't a rarity anymore in Tallinn, Tartu or elsewhere. The income of various executives and specialists in the IT, construction and transit sectors can easily surpass that of MPs' salaries, and they may have other benefits. Such as share options, or international career opportunities. Entrepreneur incomes may be significantly higher than that.

MPs have no particular career opportunities. Their chief concern is what to do if they aren't reelected. What to do with the rest of their lives. It may not always be so easy to successfully return to a previous position after taking a break from their career.

At the same time, salaries higher than that aren't a rarity anymore in Tallinn, Tartu and elsewhere. The income of various executives and specialists in the IT, construction and transit sectors can easily surpass that of MPs' salaries, and they may have other benefits. Such as share options, or international career opportunities. Entrepreneur incomes may be significantly higher than that.

MPs have no particular career opportunities. Their chief concern is what to do if they aren't reelected. What to do with the rest of their lives. It may not always be so easy to successfully return to a previous position after taking a break from their career.

Add to the above constant public scrutiny. Constantly receiving media attention — and not just you, but also your entire family. Regardless of what happens, something could immediately end up national news. That isn't a very attractive prospect for many.

Relative salaries have fallen

Following the restoration of Estonian independence, MP wages were pegged to the average wage. In the case of regular MP, it was four times the average wage. At the same time, this system resulted in a great deal of anger among voters. This culminated during the economic crisis, when prior strong wage growth led to increases in MP salaries just as other members of society had to start tightening their belts.

At the time, the law was changed to increase MP salaries in accordance with inflation and social tax receipt growth. The law was amended so ineptly, however, that the law did not actually enter into force, and MP salaries saw fairly dogged growth. Just a couple hundred euros in ten years.

While it was four times the average wage prior to the crisis, then last year it equaled 2.7 and in the new Riigikogu three times the average wage. One can expect this trend to persist.

MP wage costs will run us €8.3 million this year. On the one hand this is quite a lot, but considering the total stage budget, then not excessively so. In terms of our budget, we could stand to increase this multifold without it essentially causing any problems. I'm not saying we should increase MP salaries multifold, but what if we stopped paying out various expense allowances and just increased MP salaries a bit instead?

There are people in the Riigikogu whose names don't ring a bell for me at all. I have zero desire to give them any money. But I don't want us to end up in a situation where someone resigns from the Riigikogu or doesn't run for a seat because of money. It is crucial for Estonia that its MPs are selected from among the best possible candidates.

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Editor: Aili Vahtla



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