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Rats! And she wants to govern me?!

By Winford James

 People’s National Movement (PNM) Senator Camille Robinson-Regis probably called me a rat the other day—thankfully, not to my face. She was incensed columnists and other commentators had dared to criticise the new legislation on salaries and pensions for judges and MPs that was recently passed in the Lower House via joint action by both the Government and Opposition but had not reported the PNM’s position. Then she retracted the unfortunate epithet, calling it a rare case of probably inelegant English on her part. She asked for forgiveness.

This is the statement in which she called (some of the) critics rats: “The legislation has elicited quite a lot of acrimony in our society. It has resulted in some rats coming out of their holes!”

Now she may not have been referring to me since in her statement of fury she said “some rats”, but her lack of specification suggests she may have been, since I am a critic. So I must protest, even in the face of her apology. You see, even though the apology withdraws the word, it does not replace it; it merely says she used it in the heat of debate, she let her emotions get the better of her and she had not intended to be disrespectful.

If “rats” just flew out of her mouth then, out of sync with her intention not to disrespect, what is the metaphor she would replace it with? If I am not a rat, what am I? 

In her explanation, Robinson-Regis stated it was “a little unfortunate that some of the commentators were not giving the full story on my part and on giving the full story of what the PNM said in relation to this particular piece of legislation. And I found that was totally unfair”.

Yes, when commentators and reporters do not report your story fully, picking out what they think the public would want to read/hear and what would sell their news, that must be a very heavy cross to bear, indeed. But, rats, man! Do you have to call us rats? Do you have to get so vexed that you expose your thin skin?

Okay, so you wanted the public to know 1. the Salaries Review Commission has ignored the issue of pensions for retired judges and MPs despite the Government and Opposition taking a collaborative position on them; 2. Parliament’s new legis­lation is not unconstitutional; 3. the PNM wanted a formula similar to the one used in the definition of pensionable emoluments in the Pensions Act, Chapter 23:52; and 4. pensions should be indexed to “the annual increase year-on-year Index of Retail Prices” as published by the Central Bank. But, rats, girl! Am I a rat for criticising or not publishing these things? 

Am I a despicable, deceitful and disloyal person? And, rats, girl! Do I live in a hole? Is such emotionally violent language appropriate from someone who aspires to lead me in the next replacement government? 

I cannot see why I am a hole-dwelling rat for either criticising the Parliament for unilaterally deciding to aggrandise themselves or failing to report the PNM’s views on the legitimacy of the legislation. Robinson-Regis should perhaps consider her choice of “rats” was not only inelegant but inaccurate, for many of the commentators have been criticising all along. The Government and the Opposition need critics to provide restraint and balance to their actions for the better governance of the country, for it is natural for them to forget their discretions—the discretions of a very few men and women—often fail the people miserably.

So let me criticise for balance and restraint, and I do so this time using the insights of a former deputy governor of the Central Bank, Terrence Farrell, on one of the issues that arise. It’s no secret Parliament has been frustrated and peeved by the SRC’s slow pace of work and, particularly, its non-attention to the issue of pensions. Farrell observes emotions are a bad starting point for making good policy; and Parliament going above the heads of the SRC, while arguably constitutional, would place the SRC in “a difficult position”. The SRC would be stripped of a significant element of its function, which would influence how it views base salaries of positions within its purview since the formulae for pension entitlements would have been set by these pieces of legislation, which distorts internal comparison of other positions with those of parliamentarians and judges.

Rats! The legislation is bad policy—in the presence of the SRC.

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