Saturday, February 24, 2018

Pensions bills in danger of lapsing

Parliament might be hard-pressed to meet the August 2 deadline for the resolution of the issues relating to the Judges Salaries and Pensions Bill, the Legislative Retiring Allowances Bill and the Procurement Bill. 

The Parliament has to prorogue by August 2. Once the Parliament goes into recess, all unfinished business dies. 

Next week, the last week of July and starting of August, has two public holidays—July 29 and August 1. And on Monday, July  28, the Prime Minister of Japan, Shenzo Abe, will be in Trinidad and Tobago. That leaves basically two possible days for Parliament, July 30 and 31. 

As far as the two pension bills are concerned, these bills were sent to a Special Select Committee of the Senate which is due to report  to the Senate on July 30. 

Assuming the committee completes the work, it would mean that the Senate would have to pass the amended bills on July 30 and the House of Representatives would have to meet the next day—July 31—to debate and approve the amendments recommended by the Senate Committee. If this very tight schedule is not met, the bills, which provoked so much outrage and controversy, would lapse. 

Alternatively the House of Representatives can proceed in accordance with Section 164 (1) of the Constitution and submit these money bills in the form in which they were passed in the House, for assent by the President.

In their original form, the two pension bills introduced a new pension regime for judges and parliamentarians, which proposed a dramatic increase in retirement benefits. 

According to the bills, retirements benefits are to be calculated using existing salary and allowances and would be pegged to current emoluments so that the pensions would automatically increase whenever the salaries and allowances of the existing office-holders increase.  

There was much opposition to the measures which had received the unanimous approval of Government and Opposition in the House of Representatives. 

And as a consequence, when the bills came to the Senate for debate,  Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar recommended that the bills go to a Senate Committee for consideration. The Senate accepted this proposal. It is understood that the Senate Committee appointed to consider these bill would meet for the first time this morning. 

With respect to the Procurement bill, this was passed in the Senate. Debate began in the House of Representatives on July 4, but has not been continued since then.