The New Today

Commentary

Discriminatory, ungrateful, lawless and oppressive

The matter of pension entitlements of public officers has been on my mind for many years and, even after arguments have been put before the court earlier this year, there is a tangential issue regarding whether this current NNP administration can truly say that their conduct in this matter is in any way genuine.

I am not going to attempt to set out or re-argue the merits of the matter in this public forum, but I believe that we need to look at the course of conduct of this government and especially its leader, and their claim that they are motivated by the love of the ordinary Grenadian man.

My considered view is that Dr. Keith C. Mitchell (Khief) and his NNP have tried, and continue to try, to control and politicise this award of pension benefits to public workers in Grenada.

The title sets out four of the reasons why I insist that no genuine government should, especially at this time, seek to resist the obligation to pay non-contributory pension benefits to Grenada public workers, which includes teachers, policemen, and others.

Discriminatory

Parliamentarians
While tens of thousands of dollars are right now being spent resisting the claim of public workers for pension benefits according to the Constitution of Grenada, Khief and his group have continued to maintain the payment of pension benefits to himself and other parliamentarians.

Public workers have to serve for decades to qualify for full pension which is a percentage of their meager final salary, while a politician walks off the street, gets elected to Parliament, or is appointed to the Senate and gets paid a pension for the rest of his life once that person accumulates a total of 8 years’ service in Parliament.

Khief clearly understands that such a payment is being made solely on account of the service in a public office. How can Khief, in all good conscience, allow this to continue when the poor workers toil for decades and are being told flatly that they have nothing to get?

Other public workers
In case this is not public knowledge, while Khief is saying to the court that public workers appointed by the Public Service Commission are not entitled to pension benefits set out in our Constitution, he has gone to Parliament and created pension entitlement for other workers that are not appointed by the Public Service Commission!

So what is his plan?

(1). Undermine the establishment where there is an independent appointment of workers who are to receive pension benefits;

(2). Allow people to get pension whom he, as a politician, can appoint;

(3). Use this group of people to create an additional national support base that is loyal to him.

Ungrateful
It must be made clear that the purpose of pension benefits is to show appreciation to public workers for faithful service to Grenada. It is a “thank you” to the workers and our Constitution provides for the establishment of a clear system of regulations which allows for the benefits to be reduced or stopped completely.

Even after a person retires from public service a certain minimum level of conduct is demanded of that person if the payment of pension benefits is to be maintained.

The fact that there are not many persons who have had their pension benefits reduced or withdrawn, is testimony to the efficacy of the system in providing an incentive to salutary social conduct.

The glib words of appreciation from the lips of Khief to public workers in all of his budget and other speeches must appear really shallow and dubious to our hard working public workers, coming from the mouth of a man who has been struggling against their receipt of a “thank you” handshake for over 3 decades.

Yes, Khief was one of the persons who said a resounding “yeah”, in Parliament over 30 years ago, to disqualifying poor workers from pension benefits, knowing full well that such an action would not affect his own entitlement.

The verbal “thank you” from Khief only gives lip service to the concept of appreciation for hard work in a low paying job.

Lawless
How can Khief and his group in all good conscience spend tens of thousands of the people’s money to go to the High Court and argue the very same argument that was rejected by the High Court in 2012? This is truly what is happening, and every Grenadian needs to know and understand this!

The NDC government went to court in 2010 in a challenge raised by Dr. Alexis, Q.C. on behalf of Hermilyn Armstrong and the court gave a written judgment on October 15, 2012. At that point in time, you will recall that the NDC government was in a state of shambles and Parliament had not convened for quite a while.

In May 2013, the effect of the judgment was clearly explained to Khief with the option of seeking a reference from the Court of Appeal in the name of the Attorney General in order to fully clarify the pension issue. That was flatly refused by Khief! He wants no clarity! He only seeks to make political gain out of the confusion.

Related:  Sense, science and nonsense

A part of the court order in the Armstrong case was:

“A declaration pursuant to section 101 of the Constitution of Grenada that, in relation to the claimant Hermilyn Armstrong, section 18(4) of the Pensions Act, Cap 233, 1990 Revised Laws of Grenada, is inconsistent with section 92 (2) (b) of the Constitution and, not having been passed in accordance with section 39 (5) of the Constitution is, to the extent of such inconsistency, void, by virtue of section 106 of the Constitution”.

To be as clear as possible, the section 18(4) of the Pensions Act, Cap 233, is the precise part where Khief has inserted the disqualification provision that his Parliament first passed in 1985 and called it the Pension Disqualification Act.

Please note that:

(I). The Pension Disqualification Act did not say that it was amending the Pensions Act, but was inserted into the Pensions Act by a person who was hired to do a consolidation of the laws of Grenada.

(II). In July 2018, under Dr. Lawrence Joseph, a diehard NNP Attorney General, Khief brought a bill to Parliament to amend the various Pensions Act in Grenada, to deprive the poor workers of their pension benefit, retrospectively to the exact date when Khief said “yeah” in Parliament.

This is no coincidence! This was never the act of the People’s Revolutionary Government! It was a deliberate political decision made by Khief and company and now stubbornly maintained by Khief and company!

(III). Khief and his group have now paid tens of thousands of dollars for an expensive Queen’s Counsel to go to court and argue the same points that Kinna Marast-Victor, Crown Counsel at the time, and now Honourable Magistrate, argued before the High Court in 2012.

( IV). The decision of the High Court was that such a disqualification has to be passed in accordance with section 39(5), that is:

(a). 90 day period between first introduction in Parliament and its second reading;

(b). Passage by both houses of Parliament;

(c). A referendum with the support of two-thirds of all valid votes cast.

It appears that, in an attempt to sidestep the Armstrong decision on Section 18(4) of the Pensions Act, Cap 233, Khief stubbornly went back to Parliament in an attempt to directly amend the provisions of the various pensions acts. But the Armstrong judgment is very clear, that the amendment to pensions which Khief tried to pass again in 2018, is void once it is not passed in accordance with section 39 (5) of the Constitution.

The conduct of Khief and his group is lawless because the decision in Armstrong has never been challenged and Armstrong is being paid her pension benefits in keeping with the judgment.

Oppressive
Spare a thought for our poor struggling teachers, policemen and other public officers who work so hard, are given inadequate equipment to work with, are paid so little and now Khief says that they have no pension to get unless His Majesty Khief chooses to give his selected few!

You cannot mix up the NIS age pension, which all workers are forced to contribute to, and this “thank you” pension!

Cost of living, in general, continues to increase steadily. The costs of essential goods increase month by month. The costs of services increase in step with the other increases. Public workers have to strike and agitate to get even the little percentage increases in wages that have already been agreed with Khief and company.

Yet in spite of all this Khief insists that he will oppose the provisions of the Constitution that he has sworn solemnly to uphold! Poor people in their twilight years have to beg in order to try to survive!

How, in all good conscience can one ask a public officer to “devote his full time and attention to execute the requirements of his office”? It is an office in which he cannot even leave the country without obtaining permission from the Public Service Commission. It is an office in which he has to obtain the permission of the Public Service Commission even to earn money by other means to supplement his low salary.

This is the context in which the state of Grenada has, according to its own Constitution which is a contract between the state and its people, agreed to grant non-contributory pension benefits to its committed and loyal workers.

Let every person in Grenada hear and understand the context of pension benefits in Grenada. Let every person in Grenada understand that, if any government wishes to change that pension provision of the Constitution, a referendum must be held so that ordinary people can decide whether or not to give a “thank you” to the public officers of their country.

Cajeton Hood is an attorney-at-law who served as Attorney General during the 2013-18 period in government of the New National Party of Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell