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PENSION UPSET

Salaries Review Commission meets on big increases for judges, MPs

By \\\\\ Ria Taitt Political Editor

The Salaries Review Commission held a meeting on Wednesday at which it discussed the implications of the Judges Salaries and Pensions Amendment Bill and the Retiring Allowances (Legislative Service) Bill, which proposed sweeping changes to the pension arrangements for judges and legis­lators.

Sources said yesterday the commission expressed concerns about the measures and their impli­cations. 

The bill proposes pensions of judges be indexed to the current tax-free salary and tax-free allowances of sitting judges. This means the pension of a retired chief justice would be equal to the salary and allowances of the current chief justice for all times. The Chief Justice currently receives a salary of $50,350, a housing allowance of $28,000, a judicial contact allowance of $118,000 and a transport allowance of $5,040. This makes a retired chief justice the highest-earning pensioner, getting more than a retired president. 

For the legislators, the same principle applies, except that their salaries and pensions are subject to tax and they would be paid a percentage of the salary and allowances depending on their length of service.

A minister, member of the House or senator who serves for 18 years upon retirement would continue to receive the salary, housing allowance and transport allowance of the highest office that he/she held while in the Parliament.

The new scheme also introduces a termination benefit to members of the House when they leave office, which equates to one half of their annual salary in addition to the gratuity paid to all members of Parliament at the end of every term.

The bill, which is a money bill, is to be debated in the Senate on Tuesday. According to the Constitution, if the Senate does not pass the bill within one month, it can be presented to the President for assent, notwithstanding that the Senate has not consented to it.

In the case of the judges, once the act is assented to by the President, the Constitution prohibits any downward adjustment to judges’ arrangements in relation to emolument. Therefore, these arrangements would become permanent. The President, himself a former judge, is eligible to receive a judge’s pension, even while in office as President, and therefore stands to benefit from this bill.

It means all the key players—those who make the bill, those who assent to the law and those who interpret the law—will themselves be beneficiaries. 

In the House of Representatives, in discussing the merits of the measures, both sides argued the many former judges and parliamentarians are living in improvished conditions. For example, those ministers who retired in 1986 and 1991 had their pensions on a salary of $8,800. Many from the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) who served one term found themselves falling short by mere days of the existing five-year qualifying period for receiving a pension. The new pension bill reduces the qualifying period from five years to four years.

Their People’s National Movement counterparts, who served during the Eric Williams and George Chambers eras and served as ministers for 15 years, currently receive a pension of $4,400; and those who were minis­ters for 30 years currently receive a pension of $6,000 a month.

In respect of former judges, Minister Roodal Moonilal pointed out former justice of appeal Ulric Cross, who served for many years in the military, in the judiciary had a judicial pension of $3,500 when he died.

However, commentators are concerned the bills go too far on the other extreme and some have described the new pension proposals as “legalised corruption” and “collective rape of the Treasury”, according to an e-mail which is being circulated on social media.

The e-mail states: “Are we aware that Friday 13th June may be remembered as a dark day in our history as The Retiring Allowances (Legislative Service) Bill and The Judges Salaries and Pensions (Amendment) Bill were passed by the House of Representatives? Do we know the implications of these bills?... 

“They (Members of the House of Representatives) found a way to circumvent the Salaries Review Commission which was founded to keep himself from granting rapacious salaries to himself but which unfortunately does not have a mandate to keep PENSIONS in line!...

“The law makers are bleeding the country dry and we need media assistance to fully expose this scandal to the world.//Corruption has brought us to our knees and is now overtaking ALL the people upon whom we depend for good governance... The Sena­te must not pass these bills.”

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