Friday, February 23, 2018

Constitution, Treasury need watchdogs

I congratulate Martin Daly, SC, for coming out strongly against the unconstitutional passing of the pension bills in the Lower House. Mr Daly himself stands to benefit, as a former independent senator and it was no surprise to me that he put principle before self. I especially congratulate Raffique Shah for doing the same. Mr Shah, by his own admission, is not a wealthy man yet he chose to “reject this madness” when its enactment would give him $17,000 more, per month, for life! That is admirable. That is what we the people expect of those who have taken an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution.

However, as much as I admire Mr Daly, he seems to be missing a crucial point, which is the Salaries Review Commission (SRC) may only act upon matters referred to it by the President. It cannot take it upon itself to interfere with the existing arrangement between the President and the Government regarding the pension reform proposal which is supposedly being developed. The proper course would have been for the dissatisfied parties to have referred the matter to the President who would have, in turn, instructed the SRC.

The situation regarding the inadequate pensions of the retired judges is shameful. But there is a proper way of handling the matter. The fact that this has languished for so long does not give anybody the right to violate the Constitution. In my view, the SRC should have advised both the former and current presidents of the unacceptable status of the pensions of the judges and permanent secretaries. It was wrong to simply do nothing and to wait for instructions.

However, this situation can easily be rectified: 1. Cabinet formally notifies the President of the urgent need to address the inadequate pensions of retirees who have had no increase over the years. 2. The President mandates the SRC to review and make recommendations as a matter of urgency. 3. The SRC recommends a temporary quick-fix by setting an immediately-effective minimum level for these pensions. 4. The SRC requests funding to retain the services of an actuarial expert to assist it in making recommendations for adjustments to existing pensions, based on inflation and best practice elsewhere, and to accomplish this within three months. 5. The recommendations are submitted to Cabinet for laying in the House. Note: This action would in no way interfere with the 11-year-old pension reform exercise, supposedly being undertaken by the Government, or the ongoing job evaluation and salary survey. Pensions can undergo further review if and when the results of these two exercises are forthcoming.

We must all be watchdogs and not allow unscrupulous politicians to exploit unfortunate circumstances and violate the Constitution, enriching themselves in the process.

Jackie Carr-Brown

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