LETTER OF THE DAY
The Retiring Allowances (Legislative Service) Bill and The Judges Salaries and Pensions (Amendment) Bill were passed by the House of Representatives on Friday last and the matter is being rushed to the Senate for hearing on Tuesday.
These bills are unconstitutional. They pertain to the setting of compensation for judges, senators and MPs. The Government is not authorised to determine its own compensation, nor the compensation of the Judiciary.
Only the independent, autonomous, Salaries Review Commission (SRC) which reports solely to the President, may make recommendations in this regard. In this way, the Constitution protects the country against executive abuse.
No democratic country in the world permits its legislators to determine their own compensation.
In November last year the SRC recommended a 25 per cent increase in salary for the 400 positions under its purview.
In December last year the Government, together with the Opposition, attempted to circumvent the SRC and to set their own salaries.
Knowing it would fail, they abandoned the effort and accepted the SRC recommendation. Now they are trying, again with the full support of the Opposition, to determine their own pensions, via a diabolically clever move of including everybody in the increases.
The SRC and only the SRC may make recommendations regarding salaries AND ALL OTHER TERMS AND CONDITIONS OF EMPLOYMENT for presidents, prime ministers, judges, senators and MPs.
The background to the pensions issue is this: In 2003 the PNM began a pension reform exercise because it had determined that the present non-contributory pension arrangement was financially unsustainable and needed to be made contributory.
The exercise was to be completed within three years and the Government asked the SRC not to recommend any changes until their report was forthcoming. In 2010 it was still unfinished, although work was continuing. The incoming Government abandoned the project.
The SRC has no funding of its own to employ the necessary actuarial expertise to conduct such reform and must receive all funding through the Government. Therefore, their hands were firmly tied!
While it had been agreed that the Government would use its resources to develop a proposal for pension reform, it does not have the authority to table such a proposal directly to the Parliament or the Senate.
Any proposal must first go to the President; the President refers it to the SRC; the SRC reverts to the President with its recommendations; the President submits the SRC recommendations to the Cabinet; the Cabinet THEN AND ONLY THEN is authorised to present the recommendations to Parliament.
This contempt for the Constitution has resulted in obscenely high increases being awarded to every single legislator—past, present and future and the net of greed has been cast over even our Judiciary and this includes the President himself.
Most will have their pensions doubled immediately, e.g. past ministers and present ministers who are already 55 years old will receive a pension of $60,000 per month—up from $27,000.
The Chief Justice’s pension (and former CJ’s pension) will go from $50,000 to $93,000 (tax free) per month.
Similarly for our President who himself will be doubly awarded, first as a retired judge and then as a retired head of state and is expected, if these bills are enacted, to receive a pension of $200,000 (tax free) per month.
We are already operating on a deficit national budget. This burden will possibly be too great to sustain because there is no way the unions of the country are going to accept this without demanding similar treatment. If their demands are not met there will undoubtedly be civil unrest and, if they are met, the economy will crash and civil unrest will follow.
I am appealing to the Independent Senators, especially Senator Drayton and Senator Prescot, please preserve the integrity of our Constitution. Do not support these bills.