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Has the Prime Minister fully disclosed on pension reform for Grenada?

Over the past three decades, the discussions and proposals by the Government about Pension Reform have been ‘ambiguous, opportunistic, impulsive, and recurring’.

Although the ‘origin and focus’ about pension reform has been virtually for the Public Service, concerning the February 1974 constitutionally entitled pension benefits for qualified public officers, there also have been insinuations and inclinations concerning changes to the benefits under the April 1983 National Insurance Scheme (NIS) and which furthermore having the possibility of measures impacting pertinent areas universally, including the regulations for the retirement insurance schemes run by the private sector.

The impetus for this reform is now greatly influenced by global philosophies and trends, and by the Government not in favor for its officers to continue receiving two different pensions which have inputs by the State.

As part of the goal also, the Government is seeking to observe the recommendations of periodic actuarial reports about the NIS, as well as to observe the 2015 Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA) which places limits on public spending especially for increases in employment and wages.

The FRA is a derivative of the three-year, January 2014 ‘so-called’ Homegrown Structural Adjustment Programme, being supported by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), with a fundamental objective purported to “restore fiscal and debt sustainability”.

The issue of pension reform has been prominently considered and integrated as an aspect of modernising the Public Service Sector, generally having the directions and finances of foreign institutions.

Public Sector Modernisation has been seen by the July 2008 – February 2013 administration of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) as “the vehicle to transform the Grenada Public service into a more highly efficient and effective workforce bringing improved services (and competitiveness) to all” by featuring better policy making, customer service orientation, and better service delivery.

This modernisation process involves a multiple of undertakings, and as has been peddled by the June 1995 – July 2008 administration of the New National Party (NNP), it is also based on the principle of smaller Government with the policy of outsourcing or contracting out selected services and of providing a legal and regulatory framework that is conducive to Private Sector Development.

The February 2013-June 2022 NNP-administration further the relevance of modernising the public sector on the basis that “the New Economy demands a New Public Service in respect of its approach to doing the Nation’s business”.

The 2003 Budget Statement declares Government’s commitment “to reforming the pension system …. as it endeavours to develop an efficient, effective and well-motivated Public Service”, and to this end it has “appointed a Pensions Review Committee to examine this matter and submit recommendations.

Having reviewed the Committee’s report, the Government has decided to commission a comprehensive review of the system.   A request for technical assistance has already been submitted to an international agency”.

Then according to the 2004 Throne Speech, “Technical assistance and advice has been sought from the Commonwealth Fund to review the Pension System for Public Officers, with a view to examine options and make recommendations for an equitable and sustainable system. This would include Public Officers appointed after April 4, 1983, who are disadvantaged by the Pension Disqualification Act”.

The NNP’s 2008 Budget Statement, with a campaign slogan of “Let The Progress Continue”, by the Minister of Finance, reported; “…. in respect of the Pension System to provide for a pension for Public Officers who were appointed to the Service on or after the 4 of April 1983, I would wish to advise the House that Government awaits the findings of the Actuary and Pension Planner from the firm of Bacon Woodrow and De Souza out of Trinidad who has been retained to examine the implications of various pension schemes, recommend an appropriate one for Grenada and suggest proposals for its financing. The report of the Pension Planner should be completed by next year February (‘2009’)”.

The NDC’s 2009 Budget Statement claims that the Government is mindful of the importance of pension reform for many public officers, and that it is currently receiving advice on the available options and shall report to the stakeholders in due course.

Then the 2010 Budget Statement follows; thus, “In respect of pensions for public officers, a Cabinet Committee has considered the Pension Review Report and will soon submit recommendations to Cabinet. Government wishes to have the new pension arrangements in place by 2011”.

It would be of interest to know whether or not the advices and reports received by the NDC-administration, consist of any reasonable strides made on the matter by its ‘predecessor’ NNP-administration, especially including the ‘costly’ work of the Actuary and Pension Planner of Trinidad.

The 2012 Budget Statement affirms the NDC administration’s commitment to the implementation of a pension scheme for public officers who are currently not eligible.

Of significance are the expression; “Last July (‘2011’) Government arranged a pension symposium to forge consensus on the way forward for pension reform in Grenada in general and pensions for public officers in particular”, resulting with key recommendations including the development of an integrated pension scheme between Government and NIS to ensure an agreed minimum pension for all public officers, rationalisation of the various pension laws for public officers, and establishment of a national retirement age.

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“Cabinet has received the report and established a working group including representation from the Public Workers Union and the National Insurance Scheme to guide the work of the actuary in development of a new pension plan. Cabinet expects to receive reports and final recommendations within the next few months. …. it is the Government’s intention that the new pension scheme will come into effect from January 2013”.

The apparent elusive solution for pension reform, led to the July 2017 internet-circulated article, “Undefined Pension Reform Touted In Grenada”, questioning the NNP-administration of former Prime Minister, Mathematician/Statistician, Dr. Keith Mitchell, about the definition and extent of the pension reform being proposed, with the emphasis to address the restoration of the constitutional pension benefits to public officers.

Particularly being worried about the ‘fairness and balance’ involved with pension reform, it is critical to ascertain whether this is about a comprehensive and holistic mechanism, touching all pension issues including the Governor General, the parliamentarians, the private sector, the public sector, the NIS, and other such institutions and Government’s Old Age Pension social programmes.

Following by way of the pattern of repeated inclusion in the annual Speech by the Governor General to mark the opening of a parliamentary session, the 2022 Throne Speech entitled “Transformative Development: Towards a Sustainable, Equitable and Prosperous Grenada”, delivered on 31 August 2022 by Her Excellency, Dame Dr. Cécile La Grenade, on behalf of the 23 June 2022 new NDC administration, referenced Public Service Sector Reform and Pension Reform.

This is manifest thus inter alia; “…. specific focus will be given to strengthening public sector governance through coherent and systematic modernisation and reforms that are aimed at increasing citizens’ confidence in the public sector”, and “Pension reform will also be a key part of my Government’s plan to ensure a fiscally sound pension and social security system for public workers …. In addition, my Government has begun the process to regularise the status of unestablished and contract workers operating within the Public Service”.

Has the NDC’s 2023 Budget Statement dubbed “Vision 2035: People-Centered Transformation Laying the Foundation for Resilience, Empowerment and Growth”, presented on 5 December 2022 by Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, experienced Attorney Dickon Mitchell, defined and described the extent of “transforming the Public Service and Pension Reform”.

On expanding the Throne Speech Dickon relates; “ …. we wish to reiterate that reform of the existing pension arrangements must go hand in hand with staff regularisation. This is not a recantation of our Administration’s promises. …. the people of Grenada …. did not only vote us into Office to pay the pension but, among other things, to manage the economy well. 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. …. in the interest of transparency and collaboration, we have invited the Trade Union Council to nominate a representative to serve on the Committee. While they have not done so to date, we remain hopeful a representative will be appointed in short order”.

Whilst the Government is awaiting a response by the Trade Union Council, it has not clearly outlined the specific Terms Of Reference for Gilchrist’s committee. Would Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell now bring home the beacon for the Government on pension reform, especially as it relates to public officers?

Would Dickon surpass the lack of political, technical and legal capacity of the past administrations to accomplish the pension reform, via constitutional reform as chronicled on the NowGrenada website “Pension Reform May Require Changes To Constitution”, based on the pronouncements by the Prime Minister in honouring the March 2022 Justice Raulston Glasgow Judgement for the reinstatement of Pension and Gratuity to public officers?

Would Dickon Mitchell seek to benefit and build on the diverse projects already done on this matter, especially those incomplete by the past NDC? The previous article “Grenada Constitution Should Not Be Tampered With For Pensions Reforms, however queries about the ‘adequate compensation’, ‘security of tenure’ and ‘deserved isolation’ of public officers from political abuses, as well as how ‘imperative and inescapable’ it is for attacking the constitution to ensure the pension reform.

Indeed, it should be strikingly ‘strange and inquiring’ as to why there have not been any indications of genuine considerations about sections 46 and 47 of the 1983 National Insurance Act, in the different attempts highlighted in the Throne Speeches and Budget Statements over the many years, with the view to resolve the matter of pension reform pertinent to public officers.

This is critical, as it is also evident with Dickon Mitchell’s approach; despite this failure by the past administrations to act on those sections, has been regularly raised in pertinent Court Judgments including the most recent by Justice Glasgow.

J.K. Roberts