Thursday sees the opening of the sixth parliament.

From Thursday, the 400 representatives elected by voters on May 8 start work – fashioning the laws that will govern the country.

As usual, the President will deliver the State of the Nation address (SONA) when he maps out the main challenges facing the country.

It is almost certain that economic inequality will, as it has in the past, influence what is said and planned.

Presumably the members of parliament will, during the sixth administration, move some way to addressing this inequality through the laws they fashion.

Although MPs are certain to express their distaste of inequality and attempt to work towards a more equitable society, they will be  paid handsomely to do so.

Regular Members of Parliament  (i.e. those without additional obligations that supplement their earnings) will receive over R90 000 a month for their efforts.

This income is supplemented by a wide range of additional benefits (housing, transport etc.). To place these  earnings in perspective, they can be compared to the earnings of people in other important positions as well to what ‘the man in the street earns’.

According to Stats SA, the average monthly income of a formally employed South African is approximately R21 000 a month. However this figure is misleading and says little about what the average employee earns.

This is because the average is blind as to who earns what in any enterprise.

The average earning in any enterprise is the same if, for example, a) 50 employees earn the minimum wage of R3 000 a month and the CEO earns nothing or b) the CEO earns R150 000 a month and the 50 employees earn nothing. Although the two scenarios point to radically different welfare profiles, the average earnings are R2 900 in both instances.

A better indication of what the average person earns if given by the median income.

Half of all employees earn below the median income and half earn more than it. Stats SA’s  Labour Market Dynamic survey of 2017 indicates that the median income is slightly less than R4 800 a month.

This means that the salary of a MP (without benefits) matches what 20 ‘typical’ South Africans earn. Generous payments to politician and political appointments typify the public sector. The remuneration of the President of the country (at the budgeted R3.1-million a year) equals the earnings of 54 typical workers.

The mayors of large municipalities earn about R112 000 each month (excluding their benefits). Mayors of smaller municipalities earn somewhat less but in even the smallest municipalities where a full-time mayor is not justified mayors earn R35 000 a month.

In large municipalities part-time councillors (those without obligations over and above their occasional council duties) earn R42 000 a month (plus benefits).

Even the President’s salary pales in comparison with what senior office bearers in State Owned Enterprises (SOE) earn. Despite its parlous state of finances, the CEO of SAA earns over R490 000 each month.

Eskom’s 2018 annual report indicates that one of its Executive Directors, Anoj Singh, earned R9.4-million in the financial year ending 31 March 2018.

Although he quit before 1 January 2017, the CEO of ESKOM, Brian Molefe earned R9.4 million in that financial year and another R2.1-million in the year ending 31 March 2018.

Molefe’s earning for part of the 2017 financial year matched that of 160 ‘typical’ South Africa employees.

The figures indicate that earnings of public officials and law makers contribute to the inequality that taints the economy.

While it would be unheard of the to rectify this situation directly, the next best form of redress would be in how well they exercise oversight of SOEs and the executive (local, provincial and national).