Most Arab state officials often earn very high salaries and receive generous benefits in order to immunize them against bribery, and preserve their integrity. Or so they say.
But who is best suited, if ever, to actually assess the salary a state official should receive? Whether it is for a head of state, a member of the executive, or a Member of Parliament, how do we determine if a salary is reasonable, and proportionate to the amount of work they do? Whatever the amount, one cannot help but evaluate and measure it against the income of the average citizen.
For example, an elected Member of the Lebanese Parliament, makes ten times what the average Lebanese citizen makes. In addition to their salary, they also receive a monthly social assistance stipend in the vicinity of USD 2,000, the equivalent of 20 percent of the average citizen share of the annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP). 128 current Lebanese MPs, hundreds more former MPs who continue to receive 50 to 75 percent of their allocations after they retire, in addition to former presidents and ministers, all cost the Lebanese treasury and citizens upwards of USD 61 million yearly.
In Palestine, MPs make USD 3,000 monthly, in a state where GDP per capita doesn’t exceed USD 1,400. All official positions, presidential, ministerial, or parliamentary, receive their allocations at a rate ranging from 50 to 85 percent depending on years of service, until death.
This scenario extends across the Arab landscape and beyond, to many countries believed to be some of the most democratic and transparent.
The method most often used to measure inequality between the average citizen’s wage and that of their country’s officials, relies on a comparison between the latter’s salary and GDP per capita. Despite the importance of the results yielded by this comparison, it remains insufficient to paint a realistic picture of the actual discrepancy. This is yet more valid if we consider the argument that a society's troubles, are not simply commensurate with the size of its GDP or its economic growth, but to the disparity that exists between its members, and the levels of equality or inequality within it. In this sense, the less disparity between various members of a society the better they fare, regardless of the size of their individual income.
It is useful to rely on the GINI Index, which is one of the most widely used tools to measure the equitable distribution of national income, and thereby evaluate the wages of state officials. For instance, a member of the Saudi Parliament makes USD 84,000 a year, while a US member of Congress makes USD 174,000, they are both equivalent to five times the GDP per capita in each country. However, GINI ranks the Kingdom above the USA. Conversely, a Norwegian MP’s salary is ten times that of their Hungarian counterpart, but is not deemed disproportionate when considering that Norway is simply more equitable than Hungary when it comes to national income distribution.
Whatever amount state officials may be allocated is not the issue, as long as they endeavor to eliminate income inequality and the gap that exists between them and the rest of the people they purportedly serve.