Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Ramesh: Bill has created a constitutional crisis


‘$36,000 pension’: Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj

Mark Fraser

“As a former MP, if I am to receive any extra benefits because of this law, I intend to give back the money,” former attorney general Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj said yesterday.

He was commenting on the two pension bills—the Judges Salaries and Pensions Amendment Bill and the Retiring Allowances Legistative Amendment Bill—which were passed in the House of Representatives on June 13 and which radically alter the pension arrangements for judges and parliamentarians.

Maharaj’s current parliamentary pension of $6,000 would increase to $36,000 if the bills are passed.

He said the Constitution, by providing for an independent commission (Salaries Review Commission) insulates the Judiciary from the Executive and the legislative arm of the State.

He said the Constitution prohibits any action or arrangement that could give the impression that the Executive is directly interfacing and negotiating with the Judiciary on their terms and conditions of service.

“What has happened is clearly in breach of the doctrine of the separation of powers and it has created a constitutional crisis,” said Maharaj.

“What happens if a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago files a constitutional motion against the intended law. ... Who is going to decide the case?” he asked.

Maharaj said he wanted to make it clear that he supported the increase in benefits for retired judges and retired parliamentarians.

“But I am totally against a procedure and a process which is prohibited by the Constitution and in respect of which members of the legal profession and important stakeholders, including the public, were not consulted, especially where there are unprecedented levels of increase in terms and conditions and pensions,” he said.

In respect of the MPs, the same provision applies, the same safeguards (the role of the SRC) applied, so that MPs would not be involved in fixing their terms and conditions.

He said, however, in terms of the Judiciary, the public interest damage was greater because the Judiciary has to decide cases.

“But it is the same kind of evil that is committed in respect of the MPs. And the MPs should know better,” Maharaj said.

He said the Prime Minister and the Attorney General, as the Executive which initiated this move, must account to the population.

He said he supported David Abdulah’s position that this was worse than Section 34.