A larger Parliament – at what cost?

How much will it cost to expand the Solomons Islands Parliament from 50 to 67 seats? According to the Ministry of Finance, about $46.7 million per year (AUD6.5 million). I haven’t been able to find any details online to explain how this number was calculated but presumably it includes:

  • salaries and personal allowances (eg, housing, travel etc),
  • office space, equipment, stationary etc, and
  • the costs of allocating the Rural Constituency Development Fund (RCDF) and similar funds to each the additional parliamentarian

The total 2010 budget was reportedly around $1.9 billion (AUD263 million), which means that these additional MPs would cost an extra 2.5% of the total budget. This is a significant amount at any time but particularly now, when the Government’s revenues have been affected by the global financial crisis and the Permanent Secretary of Finance has recently warned that the Government’s finances are tight.

In its February edition, Island Business magazine reported that the Government’s cash flow problems had delayed the release of funds for election preprarations. If this is still the case, it raises the question: with limited funds, what is the top priority for the Government and for Parliament – more seats or a well-prepared election?

In a previous post, I suggested that an increase of 17 seats might be appropriate, since that represented an increase that did not even keep up with population growth since the last increase in Parliament. On reflection, I’m not sure that’s a very good argument. We now have some idea of the costs of extra seats so the question now should be: what are the likely benefits?

It would be interesting to see what the Constitutional Boundaries Commission says but I haven’t been able to find a copy of its report online (can anyone help me here?). But no matter what it says, it will have to come up with a better argument than “keeping pace with population growth” to justify costs of around $46.7 million per year.

(Note: currency conversion from SI dollars to Australian dollars is based on today’s exchange rate – SBD1 buys AUD0.1383 – as reported on the Central Bank web site.)

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