Eldhose Kunnappillil is chauffeured around as president of the Ernakulam district panchayat. But Mr. Kunnappillil’s driver gets paid double the salary than the monthly honorarium of Rs.8,250 he draws.
“The gulf between salaries is even greater when it comes to my confidential assistant and secretary. The honorarium of local body members is so negligible that only the well-off can make both ends meet. I am fortunate to have a sound financial background,” Mr. Kunnappillil said.
There are members who can hardly afford to celebrate Onam like an average middle-class family. At least some of them could fall to the lure of corruption, Mr. Kunnappillil said.
He said the travelling allowance of Rs. 250 he gets for a trip to the capital city lasting 24 hours is a joke. “Considering the pay, the local body members are doing a service which in a way is akin to what someone like Mother Teresa did,” Mr. Kunnappillil said in jest.
Minister for Urban Affairs Manjalamkuzhi Ali said corruption cannot be condoned on the reasoning of inadequate pay. “They are people’s representatives who are supposed to serve the public without monetary considerations. But their pay needs to be revised and the State is seized of the matter,” the Minister said while declining to put a date to revision.
Mayor Tony Chammany said: “MPs and MLAs who join hands to improve their pay are indifferent when it comes to revising pay for local body members.”
The Mayor has a solution to spare the State of burden. “Pay revision can be met from the indigenous funds of local bodies. To turn down the demand based on the argument that not all local bodies are financially sound is ridiculous. How then are the officials of local bodies being paid without fail? Also why don’t the MLAs and MPs forego a pay hike considering the financial constrains of the State and the Union governments?” he said while arguing that professionalism can be expected of local body members when they are treated professionally in terms of pay. Mr. Chammany said he doesn’t claim the honorarium of Rs. 7,200 as he has alternative source of income.
P.I. Mohammadali, chairman of Thrikkakara municipality, which is one of the richest municipal corporations in the State, admits that it’s high time that the honorarium and allowances of local body members were revised. He said his honorarium comes to Rs. 6,500 while his monthly mobile bill alone accounts for more than half of it. He donates his honorarium to charity, thanks to his financially sound background.
RTI activist D.B. Binu said when MLAs and MPs are getting a decent pay why the local body members should be left out. “They should be better paid at least to deny them the reason of poor pay for indulging in corruption,” he said.