Last week a court proved a £50,000 fraud case against my former member of Parliament, among the worst of the MPs caught out in the expenses scandal a couple of years ago. It was a damaging incident, and for many people it reinforced their suspicions that politicians are in it for themselves.
Of course, most politicians aren’t in it for the money, and I read a dramatic example of that last week. There is one world leader who gives away 90% of his salary and lives on an average wage. He drives 25 year old Volkswagen Beetle, and lives on a farm at the end of a dirt track instead of the official presidential residence.
The man in question is President Jose Mujica of Uruguay, who was profiled by the BBC last week. You can read his story there, and watch a video of him at his farm. He disagrees with the caricature of himself as the ‘world’s poorest president’. It’s not about poverty, he says, but about freedom: “If you don’t have many possessions then you don’t need to work all your life like a slave to sustain them, and therefore you have more time for yourself.”
I was also pleased to see he basically presented the argument behind this website to the Rio +20 summit earlier this year:
“We’ve been talking all afternoon about sustainable development. To get the masses out of poverty. But what are we thinking? Do we want the model of development and consumption of the rich countries? I ask you now: what would happen to this planet if Indians would have the same proportion of cars per household than Germans? How much oxygen would we have left? Does this planet have enough resources so seven or eight billion can have the same level of consumption and waste that today is seen in rich societies? It is this level of hyper-consumption that is harming our planet.”
By way of comparison, here’s a list of the world’s highest paid leaders.