The New Today

Commentary

New status, rules and benefits envisaged for Grenada’s public servants – Part I

As of February 2024, Grenada may perhaps realise the genesis of a new Public Service; this would be the situation with the effecting of an envisioned new Pension Regime for public servants, as a crucial aspect of Pension Reform.

According to the 2023 Budget Statement delivered by Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell on 5 December 2022, “to secure the future of this country, pension reform is quintessential – a must. In this regard, we have established a five-member Committee chaired by Economist Dr Curlan Gilchrist and comprising of key stakeholders with a mandate to devise a new Pension Regime for all employees who will join the Public Service after January 2024”.

Who and what are really at stake? Who is representing and negotiating for those employees joining the Public Service after January 2024, as the ‘real’ key stakeholder in the process?

What are the precautions and guidelines to ensure that the ‘quality and performance’ of the Public Service is not further reduced and tainted by the implementations of the new conditions.

The immediate previous internet-circulated article,”Genuine Transparency And Collaboration For Grenada’s Pension Reform“, evaluates that the establishment of this Committee is nothing ‘exciting and extraordinary’, since there have been repeated versions and/or derivatives of the said committee as far back as in 1995 without any serious progress or any resolution on the issue, but disappointments with much financial, psychological and opportunity harm.

Pension Reform as an integral item of a ‘complex, challenging and continuous’ process of restructuring the Public Service is now not restricted to this sector, but it has overall application.

The main additional aspect for national pension reform concerns the National Insurance Scheme (NIS), but this matter is apparently outside the ‘direct and primary’ scope of Gilchrist’s Stakeholder Pension Reform Committee.

In similar fashion about the pensions-benefits for public servants; the Prime Minister laments that the NIS is facing the harsh reality of being “bankrupt in the next 10-12 years”, due to “successive NNP (‘New National Party’) Governments have kicked the can down the road as it relates to the tough decisions” to be taken.

Dickon thus declares in the Budget that the National Democratic Congress (NDC) Government will implement the recommendations of NIS Actuary, amend NIS Act, and strengthen the existing NIS system.

It would be worthwhile though, for the general population including public servants and youths, to grasp and be wary about the source and scope, as well as the social-economic impact, of the rhetoric of the Government about Pension Reform; particularly gauging the gradual increasing of the pensionable age from 60 years to 65 years starting with a move to 61 years by January 2024 and the increasing of NIS’s contribution rate from 11% to 16% by 2031 starting in February 2023 from 6.0% and 5.0% to 6.5% and 5.5% for employers and employees respectively.

There should be much ‘anxiety and anticipation’ regarding the ‘outcome and decision’ of Gilchrist’s Stakeholder Pension Reform Committee, even as Dickon is hopeful of reaching and launching the new Pension Regime.

Dickon’s optimism comes mainly because of the ‘boost in prominence’ of the 23 June 2022 NDC-administration, by its honouring of the 2022 Justice Raulston L. A. Glasgow Judgment for the restoration of the ‘full and proper’ payment of the constitutionally entitled pension benefits to all retired qualified public servants, based on what has been prescribed by the 1958 Pensions Legislations.

However, the realisation of this goal for the new Pension Regime depends mainly on the cooperation, participation and concurrence of the Trade Unions Council (TUC), particularly by those unions representing public servants, and on the success of the Government’s tactics of scaring the general population about the sustainability of its current fiscal obligation and of hinting unfairness for the “classical” public servants to benefit from two pensions-schemes which are supported by the State.

The ‘central but taunting’ task for the Committee is to reconcile or to synchronize those two pensions-schemes, as stipulated by the 1983 National Insurance Act and the 1958 Pensions Legislations; whilst a critical haunting point for the curiosity and preoccupation of Grenadian-citizens is the failing of the Government ‘not’ to repeal the 1983 Pensions (Disqualification) Act, even despite the recent ruling.

In terms of ministerial configuration, it could be said that a new Public Service was manifested with the installation of the new Cabinet of Ministers on 30 June 2022; that is, eleven (11) elected and non-elected individuals were allocated responsibilities for the various businesses of the Government as provided in sections 58, 59 & 60 of the 1974 National Constitution.

Very evident in the swearing-in ceremonial was the realignment of the ministries and the transfer of the Permanent Secretaries, with most of the ministries / Ministers been assigned Transition Leads to ‘advise and guide’ concerning the transformational platform of the new NDC administration, “Let’s Move Grenada Forward”.

Striking also, with surprises for analysts and critics, was the inclusion of the Transition Leads and the creation of a Ministry of Mobilisation, Implementation and Transformation; notably in view of the general philosophy for ‘smaller governments’ as a cost-cutting measure, and with the non-existence of a Parliament.

However; this new ministerial occurrences on entry, can be explained as being consistent with NDC’s 2022 elections-manifesto to “Align government ministries to meet developmental needs of the country … Build capacity for strategic policy management and coordination“.

Both the NDC’s Manifesto and Budget underscore that “transforming the public sector is an absolute necessity” and consider the “regularisation of Government employees” and “reform of the existing pension arrangements”, as chief connected components which are to be undertaken in the process towards this transformation end.

It should be instructive how Dickon seems to make ‘conditional the undertaking and achieving’ of those issues by reiterating that “ … reform of the existing pension arrangements must go hand in hand with staff regularization”.

With reference to pertinent remarks at the 31 October 2022 Government Townhall Meeting, this reiteration seems to be directed to the TUC which have been over the past years, constantly raising the need for meaningfully addressing of the precarious issues in the Public Service; that is, typically about the entitlement of constitutional pension benefits and the different categories of temporary workers operating in a permanent manner in significant positions.

Those expressions would spur an ‘alert and experienced’ individual to ponder about any implied ‘tradeoff with intimidation’; recall how the article “Pensions Payment Should Not Be Exploited By Grenada NDC Government“, also warns about the ‘approach and decision’ to be taken in the bargaining process about future salaries and fringe-benefits for public servants.

According to those NDC’s political documents, the Administration’s policy and projects regarding Public Service Sector Reform reflect that “the NDC values its public service, and aims to create ONE public service … in the light of “the past (‘NNP’) Administration created a dysfunctional, parallel public service system that has resulted in low morale, low productivity, and a culture of widespread disenchantment”.

The critical concern though, is whether or not the new ruling NDC understands what contributed to this scenario in the Public Service; and about the goodwill and forthrightness, as well as the willpower and capacity, of this Administration to now have the situation better.

The main factors to grapple with about the Public Service are the upholding of the 1983 Pensions (Disqualification) Act, political appointments, applied prescriptions for Public Service Sector Reform, 2014-2016 Structural Adjustment Programme with the 2015 Fiscal Responsibility Act, proliferation of professional contracted personnel and outsourcing of Government’s services, and the urgent response to school-leavers for jobs; all tainted by abuse of Executive powers.

What is the real context and substance of the statement by Dickon about the new Pension Regime for public servants? Aren’t there undertones and obscurities in the utterance?

Indeed, a lot of clarifications and confirmations should be forthcoming. In addition to the possibly misinterpretation about ‘mutual conditionality’ for reforming the pensions scheme and regularizing the Government workers, the word “join” in the pertinent statement can be misleading.

What is the ‘meaning, depth and application’ of this ‘key operative’ word? Does “join the Public Service” carry and require the same legal treatments as “appointed in the Public Service”; or at what point is this expected to be obtained?

Does ‘once joins’, necessitate and expect the Government respecting the 1999 Labour Code and the 1969 Statutory Rules and Orders of the Public Service Commission, with ‘proper employment’ for all employees who will join the Public Service after January 2024, to ensure and realize fair treatment and security of tenure of those employees, as public servants in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution?

In fact, the Grenadian citizens are yet to know the terms of reference and framework parameters for the mandate of Gilchrist’s Stakeholder Pension Reform Committee.

Is it fair to gamble the sovereign constitutional rights and socio-economic prosperity of prospective public servants “to secure the future of this country”, especially when the process is in isolation of or without having the ‘new and novice’ Prime Minister announcing and initiating forensic enquiry into the past management of the Public Service, so that the State’s assets can be accounted for and recovered?

Moreover; the citizens and public servants in particular should be curious and preoccupied about the cost to be incurred for the establishment of Gilchrist’s Stakeholder Pension Reform Committee, especially in the light of the tremendous monies ‘gambled and wasted’ by the Government under the NDC and the NNP, on pertinent projects involving committees, consultations, researches and court-cases in devising ‘conspiracy and injustice’ against the “classical” public servants.

On this note, all retired Government workers who were deprived of the ‘full and proper’ payment of pensions-benefits, by the application of the 2003 Special Pensions Act (Cap. 308B), like the case for Hermilyn Armstrong who received calculations based on the 2012 Justice Margaret A. Price Findlay Judgment, should seek and ensure to have redress under Justice Glasgow 2022 judgment. Is there any moral, patriotic and/or constitutional reason for TUC to revert to being abuse?

Is the Government about being “open, honest and to have dialogue with our citizens” about the constitutional pensions scheme which is a critical public affairs issue, by it capitalising on the ‘uninformed, gullible, vulnerable and enthusiastic’ youthful jobseekers who may have to resort to taking employments in the Public Service; or even by having the Government frustrating the school-leavers who have determined to pursue a career such as a teacher, nurse or a police officer?

Would the Grenadian citizens, especially public servants and/or their families (and including the TUC) who have undergone ‘blood, sweat and tears’ and to be now enjoying the constitutional pensions-benefits after over forty years, ‘sell and betray’ all employees who will join the Public Service after January 2024, in a referendum to deny these recruited and entering public servants the same pensions-benefits?

In fact, would the ‘conscience and goodwill’ of parliamentarians, Ms. Delma Thomas of the Opposition and Ms. Gloria Thomas of the Administration, who may be privileged to secure, in addition to those pensions-benefits as well as the general benefits under the 1983 National Insurance Act, the special benefits under the 1989 Pension (Members Of Parliament) Act, allow for a public servant appointed on or after 01 February 2024 to be at a gross ‘disadvantage and disparity’ to those appointed on or before 31 January 2024?

Advocate To Transform Employees Pensions Security Up Not Down!

J.K. Roberts