One of the best jobs ever, in terms of an amazing remuneration, flex working hours and a virtual absence of accountability, is that of a legislator. Not only that, its a part-time job that allows the seat holder, elected or not, to engage in lucrative business endeavors on the side.
True, there is a down side. Since there is no legislative reelection in Mexico, those who get to the Senate or the lower house (the Chamber of Deputies), either by direct election or by the ridiculous scheme known as party apportionments, have a limited time to either leave their mark or make their fortune. Its six years in the Senate, three in the lowly house.
This week, both chambers will probably toil like theres no tomorrow, since the current session that started March 1 ends April 30, minus the Holy Week break and other assorted holidays and long weekends. After Saturday, Congress goes on recess again until September.
In this final week before the long recess, custom dictates that legislators in general must give the appearance of actually getting something accomplished, especially since these are electoral times and nothing much was accomplished during the current session, which is basically par for the course.
On Monday, the Senate might approve a so-called political reform, the most relevant tenet of which is to bring back the figure of independent candidates, thus breaking the political parties monopoly on candidacies. The rest of the changes or modifications are minor, and bear the chief purpose of giving the impression that actual legislative work was done in a context of bitter partisanship.
With the labor reform effectively derailed by the PRI on the eve of its approval, and with other major reforms in the back burner because of bickering, the attention is focused on relatively minor items such as a public safety act which, if approved, will likely be a watered-down version of the original proposal that contemplated a single national police and civil trials for military personnel.
Prospects of approval of the antitrust code, which is urgently needed but like everything else is politically sensitive, are slim at best, particularly in a context in which the telecoms sector is engaged in an all-out war for broadband control, and the antitrust watchdog, the Federal Competition Commission (CFC) has just slapped a controversial and unprecedented US$1 billion fine on dominant mobile carrier Telcel.
Over at the lowly house of Congress, theyll launch a last-ditch effort to find candidates for the three vacancies at the Federal Electoral Institute. They have not been able to do so in a staggering six months, but we must not despair, and as we give them the benefit of the doubt, maybe theyll get it done this week.
This year, the congressional payroll is 3.3 billion pesos (about US$285 million), an average of 8.8% more than in 2010. The average net base pay for a lawmaker (without going into the silly breakdown of base salary plus legislative assistance plus attention to citizens plus whatever else) is 160,000 pesos (about US$13,700) per month, plus travel expenses, office remodeling costs, and a whole array of other fringes such as new cars, cell-phones and many others.
But is a lawmaker is lucky enough to get elected to chair a committee, or even to be a member of one, then net base pay can double, triple or even quadruple. Is it any wonder that so many want to be legislators, if even for a limited time?