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Pensions payment should not be exploited by Grenada NDC government

It is reasonable to expect, and it even may have been necessary for the National Democratic Congress (NDC) to capitalise on the 29 March 2022 Justice Raulston Glasgow Judgement for the re-instatement of the 1958 Pensions Laws to win the 23 June 2022 elections.

Undoubtedly also, the NDC must be congratulated for keeping its election promise and for being able to pay the outstanding pensions and gratuities to retired public officers, as early as 30 November 2022.

The ‘manner and conditions’ by which the payment was made however, would draw diverse debates especially in terms of the consequences for the national economy, for the State to deliver social services and to meet the demands of other sectors and commitments, and for the formulations and measures of the upcoming budgets.

Both Economists Laurel Bain and Richard Duncan published, “Financing the Payment of Pension and Gratuity” and “An Economic Analysis of the Restoration of Public Sector Employees’ pensions” respectively, about the positive prospects of the payment, whilst according to the November 25, 2022 edition of The Grenadian Voice E-paper, Policy and Management Consultant, Dr. Stephen Fletcher, is furthermore concerned about critical factors such as possibly rises in interest rates, cost of living and inflation, as well as price gouging and unscrupulous investment offers, due to the significant amount of money injected into the economy and the propensity to increase spending with the payment.

Whatever has been the ‘basis and focus’ for the warning by him, whether patriotic or political or otherwise, as former Prime Minister Keith Mitchell expressed in a 26 April 2022 National Address; “Regarding the issue of the payment of the State pensions, unless we manage the process well, and set out a viable road map under which the State could meet its obligations, it can completely derail the economy, sink thousands into dire poverty, set us back many years and cripple future development plans. We can only have the best outcome, however, by having the most honest conversations – and by all stakeholders being engaged”.

Most obviously, current Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell shares a different perspective and/or holds a feasible contemplation, by assuring the payment and describing the position of the administration of Keith Mitchell’s New National Party (NNP) as a “cowardly approach” dancing around the issue and “making it seems as if the world will come to an end, just to give the public servants their pension”.

Dickon Mitchell, on 31 October 2022 was at a Town Hall Meeting in celebration of the NDC administration’s First 100 Days in Office, highlighting some of the challenges faced, the discoveries found, the major milestones achieved and the way forward.

With the mammoth and not easy payment of the retroactive pensions and gratuities to the public officers, which according to the Prime Minister can be as much as EC$75 million and perhaps is “the largest transfer of wealth from the Government to the citizens in the history of Grenada, post-independence”, and with the legal correctness of the State to pay the money ‘to qualified officers; it would be very ‘desirable and good’ for the NDC administration not to exploit this ‘accomplishment and obligation’ as a carrot and reason to bring ‘undue pressure’ on the serving officers, the Public Service and the nation as a whole.

Thus, public officers should be alert and not take anything for granted and in particular, the young officers and potential entrants should be knowledgeable about the ‘struggles and sacrifices’ which brought the gains so far.

Likewise, the public sector trade unions need to guard the constitutional entitlements provided and the industrial gains accrued for the officers, and not to compromise blindly to agree and sign undertakings with the Government which will jeopardise and deprive the future socio-economic empowerment of workers, including the pending bargaining for salaries and fringe-benefits for the 2023 – 2025 period.

It must not be missed that the Government, whether with NNP or NDC, generally functions by the dictates of the common powerful institutions of the United Nations, World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), even though Dickon Mitchell had declared in an interview on the Grenada Broadcasting Network on 18 January 2022 that the IMF and World Bank do not run a country.

Whilst the political game about the constitutional entitlement of pension benefits to public officers has caused much ‘demoralisation and destruction’ of the Public Service virtually during the past three decades, the 2022 Glasgow judgment for ‘upholding and observing’ the constitutional benefits seems to generate amongst the population ‘bias and envy’ against the officers and their entitlement, as Keith Mitchell’s 26 April Address tends to do.

A principal sense of the Address centered on promoting that Grenada “must recommit itself to fight for everyone, not just a single category of persons …. at the expense of the other”, with a greater understanding among competing interests that the pension issue “is not simply a trade union matter or a public service matter”.

It is also ‘misleading and mischievous’ to condemn the constitutionally entrenched pension benefits without exploring the ‘circumstance, rationale and spirit’ for the non-contributory schemes for public officers; however, limitedly relying on the ‘ill-conceived and ill-executed’ pension reform initiated by the March 1979-October 1983 People’s Revolutionary Government, with the Pensions (Disqualification) Act and the National Insurance Act.

Unfortunately, Dickon Mitchell could be seen as aggravating the ‘fiction, fear and fault’ about the pension issue by pointing without explanations about “governments going bankrupt”, by projecting that the constitutionality could be a “right that exists on paper and not in reality”, by partitioning the Trade Union leadership and its membership, and by promoting the need for pension reforms and constitutional changes.

The Prime Minister presented pertinent concerns and options about the Government’s liability for the public service pension schemes, as well as for the survival of the National Insurance Scheme (NIS), at the 31 October Celebration Ceremony and the 16 November 2022 Special Press Conference on the symbolic payment of Pension and Gratuity to public officers.

Public officers have undergone tremendous ‘manipulations and threats’ by Keith Mitchell for political domination, but Dickon Mitchell could put the final nail in the coffin of the Public Service; despite the reiteration that the NDC Administration aims to create ONE Public Service which should be efficient and empowered, and with the early delivery of elections promises to public officers.

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Having the purpose also to weaken the trade unions, the efforts for political domination which has often been disguised by recommended Public Service Sector Reforms, have been manifested with the 1996 Draft Staff Orders for the Public Service, a 1998 Bill for the Public Service Act, the 2008 Executive Agencies Act and the 2015 Fiscal Responsibility Act, as well as the proliferation of ‘contract workers and professional services’ in the Public Service.

It would be premature and could be considered deceitful for the Dickon Mitchell-led NDC administration to begin fussing and crying about the sustainability of the constitutional entitlement of pension benefits, without first analysing and revealing the financial forecast to be derived by the Transformation Agenda which also speaks about “Investing in Emerging Sectors”; those sectors particularly referenced are ICT and Digital Economy, Cannabis Industry, Creative Economy, and Energy.

Along with the endeavour of seeking debt relief from various bodies and countries, there is the need for exploring and recovering the assets of the State and to hold individuals accountable for corrupt practices, in boosting the financial capacity of the Government.

Moreover, it must be realised that although the negative conclusions which may have been drawn about the Citizenship By Investment (CBI) programme from the pronouncements and protests by the NDC in the past many years, Dickon Mitchell has been experiencing and enjoying the lucrativeness of the controversial revenue avenue and has the Administration embarked on demystifying and destigmatizing the programme for accepting and defending.

According to the website of The New Today, the Prime Minister reported that the Government secured EC$112 million, representing a 40% increase in earnings (compared to 2021 corresponding period) through the approval of 1,058 applications for citizenship during the period January to September 2022 and there are 968 applications still to be processed.

In fact, the Consolidated Fund does not seem to be ‘grim and lacking’, since there was no borrowing done for the delayed payment of the pension and gratuities.

Whilst the NNP administration must bear the blunder for allowing for the ‘complexity and enormity’ for the payment of pension benefits, the NDC must not be excused for its role played in the ‘suffering and stress’ of public officers.

The fact remains that Keith Mitchell tried to accommodate officers with various pension arrangements such as the 2003 Special Pensions Act, but the Tillman Thomas’ July 2008-February 2013 NDC administration seems to have been on a similar policy pathway as the NNP about effecting the constitutional entitlement.

Upon entry into Government, NDC should have boldly resort to the 1958 Pensions Laws to meet the expectations of officers, especially based on the assertion in its elections manifesto to “review the package of benefits that can be used to motivate public workers – such as pensions ….”, based on the previous constitutional rulings about the 1983 Pensions (Disqualification) Act and based on the ‘calls and uneasiness’ of the public sector trade unions.

The opportunity presented itself again for ‘good faith’ resolution, with the October 2012 Justice Price Findlay Judgment in favour of Hermilyn Armstrong who resigned in August 2009 and pled the Court for declaration for benefits under the Pensions Act, Cap 214, 1958 Revised Laws of Grenada.

On the other hand, to the disappointment of many individuals, Tillman Thomas sought to appease on technical grounds for not realising ‘prompt, meaningful, full and precise’ action on the Judgment. Was Tillman Thomas prepared to appeal the Judgment, after completing legal analysis and obtaining pertinent advice?

It would be instructive for the general population, the public officers and the Dickon Mitchell’s NDC administration to know of the findings and the proposals about the pension issue that was promoted in the 2010 National Budget – – – – “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”.

Is it about replaying the past towards futility, and/or about reinventing the wheel when the Prime Minister announced that a Pension Reform Committee has been constituted by this present Administration to address the pension issue in a frontal manner within the next twelve months and is hoping for the active participation by the Trade Union Council?

There is the misguided communication that the 2022 Glasgow Judgment focuses and applies to public officers who are appointed after 22 February 1985 in the Public Service.

Fundamentally, the Court Ruling for restoration of the 1958 Pensions Laws should affect all qualified officers employed on and after 4 April 1983, the effective date of the Pensions (Disqualification) Act, and thus all retirees such as Ms. Armstrong who have received retirement emoluments in accordance with the Findlay’s 2012 judgment, would have those emoluments adjusted.

It must be noted that in declaring that Armstrong is eligible for pension benefits under the 1958 Pensions Act, the Judgment also ordered that if she has received any NIS benefits then those sums are to be deducted from the monies entitled to be received.

It is also of interest to realise that despite having “strong legal advice that there are good enough grounds for an appeal” of the Price Findlay Judgment, the Keith Mitchell-led NNP administration chose not to do so. Similarly, he claimed that there are some constitutional concerns and inconveniences coming out of the Raulston Glasgow Judgment but that in considering all the issues, the Government has taken the decision not to appeal.

Had Keith Mitchell appealed the Glasgow Judgment before the June general elections, what would have been the stance of Dickon Mitchell, especially when considering that Dickon Mitchell paid the docked salary to public officers even as a litigation against the Government on the issue was in progress? The Court in November 2022 ruled in favour of the NNP Administration on the matter.

Is Constitution Reform necessary for Pensions Reforms? Review the internet-circulated articles “Grenada’s Pension Reform is Under the IMF” and “Why Vote in Grenada’s Elections: Know Behind The Scenes (Part Four)”.

J.K. Roberts