Two Independent Senators said yesterday that Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar made a wise and sensible move in expressing willingness to refer two controversial pension bills to a Senate select committee.
Following opposition from various quarters to the bills, Persad-Bissessar issued a release yesterday indicating that in keeping with her policy to allow all views to be ventilated, the Government was willing to refer the matter to a Senate select committee should all parties in the Senate agree.
Speaking to the media during the Senate’s tea break, Independent Senator Anthony Vieira said he has concerns with the bills and did not intend to lend support.
He commended the Prime Minister on her move to refer it to a Senate select committee.
“I think she was wise in holding back on it. For myself, I have a lot of problems with the two bills, notwithstanding the good intentions to help judges and. ... I think they are circumventing a constitutionally prescribed process and that can’t be good. I also find it kind of smacks of elitism because you know pensions affect everybody, all of us in Trinidad and Tobago are suffering in this guava season, to put aside two bodies and treat them specially I think sends the wrong message,” said Vieira.
Vieira, an attorney, said there was need for pension reform in the country and one that must be done in a holistic manner.
“We need to be mindful of what it is going to ultimately cost the State and when you looking at pensions you have to look at the whole actuarial input ... you have to look at the basis, you have to look at comparisons and we also have to be mindful of the precedent that we are setting,” said Vieira.
Independent Senator Elton Prescott SC said he preferred to share his concerns during the debate but did say allowing the bills to go to a select committee would open the way for more views on the issue.
Pressed further, Prescott disclosed that the bills had some areas that were “deficient” and some things were overlooked.
He pointed out that both bills were money bills and the standing orders do not permit a vote on them, therefore the Independent benches would not have had an impact on their future.
However, when questioned, Prescott said the Bills going before a select committee was a good move.
“It makes practical sense and maybe political sense too because there are people outside who are aggravated and agitating for something more to be done or something less, so this gives us all an opportunity to hear those views formally and speak more freely on it , not limited by constraint of time here,” said Prescott.
Questioned on the objections to the bills and whether he shared the same sentiments, Prescott responded: “I wouldn’t put it so high. There is existing legislation that they are simply enhancing or broadening or widening, whichever word you like. There are already provisions for allowances to be paid to legislators and to judges and so they have augmented them, so the only question is, is it too wide or too deep?”
Asked whether he felt it was too wide or deep, Prescott said he would share his views during the debate.
The bills were expected to be debated in the Senate last night.