The Retiring Allowances (Legislative Service) (Amendment) Bill and the Judges Salaries and Pensions (Amendment) Bill recently passed by the House of Representatives have, unsurprisingly and rightly, set off a firestorm of public protest.
Among others, issues of fairness and equity, of constitutionality—for example the separation of powers, the functions and performance of the Salaries Review Commission (SRC) and the disproportionate nature of the measures—have been raised. If these two pieces of legislation are carried forward, they may in the future have to be settled in the courts of law as well as in those of public opinion.
We do not oppose the principle of enhanced benefits for judges, and parliamentarians. We emphasise however that there are other retired persons such as magistrates and public servants who, for many years, and in several cases for decades, have served this country conscientiously and well, and who deserve pensions higher than the ones they receive at present.
For instance, there is at least one retired permanent secretary who is now a centenarian, and whose pension is less than that of the deceased judge mentioned in the debate on these bills. Is his age to be held against him? There are also retirees, former parliamentarians among them, whose need for costly medical care is constant.
We feel that the approach hastily taken by the House is likely to lead to more problems for Trinidad and Tobago as a whole than it solves for a chosen few.
We should all wonder about the precedent being set. What possible impact on our institutions, our economy and our democracy might there be as a result of this decision by persons whom we elected to serve us and who are now seen as serving themselves at our expense, and, moreover, to be doing so to the exclusion of persons similarly circumstanced?
Equitable salary and pension reform for the judiciary and for certain public office holders cannot sensibly be done in the piecemeal, discriminatory and hasty way adopted by the House of Representatives.
Given the constitutional position of the Salaries Review Commission, we strongly urge that the legislature should limit its intervention to the extent of interim provisions designed to take care of the urgent needs of the directly affected persons—former judges, magistrates, parliamentarians, public officers, etc. and their surviving spouses or co-habitants —on clearly defined bases such as length of service, the effect of cost of living over a defined period and compassionate need arising out of illness.
We are copying this letter to all members of the Senate.
Martin G Daly, SC