Friday, December 15, 2017

Call me a rat

Keith Subero logo49

Mark Fraser

Yes, I’m among the critics of passage of both the Judges Salaries and Pensions Amendment Bill, and the Retiring Allowances (Legislative Service) Bill, and so, according to Camille Robinson-Regis, the Opposition PNM Leader in the Senate last week, that makes me “a rat”.

I am pleased that Mrs Robinson-Regis has attempted an apology. Any way I intended to ignore the inelegance of her comments, and instead focus on the perversity in her party’s mis-step, the common ground it found with the UNC government to pass the Bills, and the compromise that has left the PNM fending off claims that its members are also eager “eat-ah-food” supplicants.

But then, in pleading his case for a pension increase, Justice Zainool Hosein of the Retired Judges Association invoked the late prime minister, Eric Williams’ statement that Judges constitute “the symbol of assurances contained in our Constitution”.

Dr Williams, he said, maintained that judges held a unique position as “custodians of the people’s constitutional rights, and upholders of the Rule of Law”.

First, how did Dr Williams’ lofty legacy of the Rule of Law descend into what now exists in T&T — a distorted state of the Rule of Lawyers? Also how did retired judges allow themselves to descend into that other place, which Robinson-Regis described as “mendicancy”? One in which the Attorney General, dramatised as a retired judge being unable to purchase adult diapers?

I am still to understand how, after a professional life of a tax- free salary, housing, transportation, medical and other benefits, a person in later years can claim to be so vulnerable that he/she needs to be a further dependent of the State.

The retired judges may not acknowledge it, but in their claims for further State assistance, they may have identified themselves — and most financial planners will agree — as among the poorest examples of self-management.

They will advance counter arguments of course, but we need to ask whether retired judges ever accepted, like thousands of lesser-paid retirees, personal responsibility for their retirement planning.

At some point, they may have to identify to questioners the difference between their circumstance and those who live off the State’s largesse in make-work programmes, and even the others who have eight or ten children and then demand State support as a personal entitlement.

The difference? One attorney admitted they are just different ends of the “Dependency Syndrome”. Another attorney last week suggested that to be fair to their argument for increased benefits, one has to consider the fees that are being paid by the Attorney General’s Office to selected attorneys.

Earlier this month, the AG told the House the State had paid some $4 million in legal fees to contest the constitutional motion filed by the Highway Re-Route Movement.

Senior Counsel Russell Martineau received $690,000; the bill of Deborah Peake, also SC,was $862,500; juniors Kelvin Ramkissoon $711,850; Gerald Ramdeen $450,000; Shastri Roberts, (brother of the Sport Minister), $501,550.83.

They also recalled the invoices published in the Express last November in which attorneys were paid some $53 million, during the period June 2010 to October 2013.

English QC Allan Newman was paid $14,474,613.54; junior attorney Gerald Ramdeen – $10,443,423; Fenton Ramsahoye, QC – $7,750,096, (who last week advised the Government on the Salaries Review Commission matter before the Senate) Avory Sinanan, SC – $6,568,225; junior Kelvin Ramkissoon – $5,924,631.80; president of the Law Association, Seenath Jairam, SC – $4,478,847.50; and junior Jagdeo Singh – $3,728,832.

“Start the discussion on those fees. Only the Government is paying those fees, and that is the source of the inequity – high fees for a few”, a source said.

Both the Government and the Opposition have made cases for the retired judges, the judiciary, and parliamentarians, but now in every corner of the public sector there is a “me too chorus”.

I would not say “rats”. Instead, I warn that the two Bills are IOUs that our children and grand-children will have to pay.

Keith Subero, a former Express news editor, has since followed a career in communication and management