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What is up Dickon’s sleeve on pensions for Grenada’s Public Officers?

Are there fundamental differences, outside of strategic approaches, between current Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell and former Prime Minister Keith Mitchell, concerning the ‘position and plan’ as relates to pension benefits for public officers?

For this analytical comparison, particular focus needs to be put on the value placed on and the treatment given to the September 1983 Pensions (Disqualification) Act, Cap. 230A, and sections 46 and 47 of the April 1983 National Insurance Act, Cap. 205; both Acts were passed by the People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG).

As flagged in the preceding article, “Has The Prime Minister Fully Disclosed On Pension Reform For Grenada?”; it seems that ‘political novice becoming public statesman’ Dickon is resolved in bringing home the bacon for the Government on the haunting issue of a new pension regime for public officers, by the ultimate approach of ‘opportunely attacking’ the unamended February 1974 Constitution.

The Article also finds it ‘strange and suspicious’ about why all the State administrators to date have been ignoring the various legal expressions on the pertinent issues of Cap. 230A and Cap. 205, resulting from the constitutional court challenges instituted by, or instituted on behalf of, ‘depressed and disfranchised’ retired officers, for the proper receipt of pensions.

This situation dates back to during the 1980’s and reaches to the March 2022 Justice Glasgow Judgment.

Mr. Justice Raulston L. A. Glasgow’s six-point ‘comprehensive and clear’ conclusion substantiates that the National Insurance Act (NIA) did not modify, wind-up or repeal the pension schemes for public officers contained under the 1958 Pensions legislation.

The law to determine pension benefits for public officers appointed to the Public Service before, on or after the 4th day of April 1983 under section 92(2)(b) of the Constitution is the 1958 Pensions legislation; and the Pensions (Disqualification) Act.

Keith Mitchell of the New National Party (NNP) had declared to “honour the intent of the judgment as it relates to the reinstatement of public pension, even while …. some of the inconsistencies (‘which’) other aspects of the judgment seem to create”.

Then whilst the National Democratic Congress (NDC) of Dickon Mitchell seems to demonstrate an appreciation for paying the pension benefits in accordance with the 1958 Pension legislations, it falls short of at least repealing the ‘troublesome’ short with no subsidiary legislation Pensions (Disqualification) Act, PDA.

What should be deduced? Is the honouring of the Judgment conditional upon the Executive’s discretion? Was the repeated message in the party’s 2022 manifesto that an NDC-led government will honour the Constitution and the ruling of the High Court on the payment of pensions – “Pay pension, gratuity, and other retiring benefits in keeping with the Constitution” – meant for genuine emphasis with manipulative semantics to win the elections?

Whilst Dickon scoffed at Keith for dancing around the issue about paying the owed pension to public officers, it must not be seen that he (Dickon) is following suit by ‘dancing and dodging’ around the issue of repealing the PDA which has been a leading subject in the recurring cases on the constitutionally entitled pension benefits for the officers.

Is Dickon sharing and supporting the legal opinions of persons like Joseph E. Layne and Lawrence A. Joseph that the PDA is constitutionally valid within the legal interpretations of the 22 February 1985 People’s Law, Interim Government Proclamation and Ordinances, Confirmation of Validity Act and the 15 October 2012 Ms. Justice Margaret A. Price Findlay Pensions Judgement, and the flaws in the legal ‘process and cure’?

The demonstration of ‘goodwill and good faith’ towards advancement on satisfactorily solving the haunting issue of public officers’ pension must be beyond the payment of Pension and Gratuity and the establishment of a stakeholders committee for realising the new pension regime, to include the repeal of the PDA, Cap. 230A.

The repeal of the PDA would generate a ‘resemblance of substantial closure’ on the predicament which it inflicts, as well as a ‘reduction of psychological anxiety’ of public officers.

Is there any legal principle to be met in order to affect the repeal of the PDA? Would a repeal of the PDA hinder the unspecified five-member Committee in its mandate to devise a new Pension Regime for all employees joining the Public Service after January 2024?

It will indeed be an outrageous travesty of justice, if those employees after January 2024, are relegated to a condition which compels undergoing a round of court cases over another twenty, thirty or forty years, because of a ‘raw deal’ obtained from the Pension Reform.

Thus, as instructed in the internet circulated article “Pensions Payment Should Not Be Exploited By Grenada NDC Government“, young public officers in and potential entrants to the Public Service should be knowledgeable about the ‘struggles and sacrifices’ which brought the employment gains so far, and be eagerly alert and actively engaged about the doings on Pension Reform for any harm.

The 2011 publication “Management Practices In The Public Service Of Grenada” lays out that it was a blunder in the execution of the socialist agenda by the 1979-1983 PRG to enact the PDA.

The Book also chides successive administrations from the restoration of democratic rule with the Constitution, for not reversing the blunder but instead continuing the ‘abuse and fraud’ by having the PDA on the statutes book and not to repeal the Act which is as easy as 1-2-3.

The reason for not having the Act repealed – or for not having any serious indication to repeal it – is a mystery, especially when there is universal consent for the repeal and that there is no ‘parliamentary barrier’ to the repeal.

Any political administration subsequent to the PRG which distances itself from the predicaments which the Act causes, by stating that it was the PRG which produced the legislation, is untruthful and uncaring; especially in light of the draconian manner by which political administrations are known to sell at their convenience the nation’s sovereignty, heritage and assets by amending ‘foundational laws’ even in the presence of strong public protests.”

Related:  Genuine transparency and collaboration for Grenada’s pension reform

In fact, the February 2019 internet circulated article “Was The Pensions (Disqualification) Act Necessary?” holds that the PRG practically acted on sections 46 and 47 of the NIA by choosing to repeal the 1958 Pensions legislations instead of modifying, even if Glasgow’s ruling did not reveal this aspect.

Both Dickon and Keith have been purporting to have concerns about the prudent management of the national economy and particularly about the sustainability of the pension schemes for public officers stemming from the 1958 Pensions legislations, as well as the sustainability of the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) stemming from the 1983 NIA, Cap. 205; but how ‘real and open’ are these leaders?

Both Dickon and Keith have been seeking to appeal to the sentiment and solidarity of the populace about the economy, even amidst the tremendous leakages in the economy due to foul and reckless transactions and the lack of evidence of recovery measures and punitive accountability for criminal acts.

Both Dickon and Keith have been promoting the pension benefits for public officers as the core for the economic problems and that it is unfair for the officers to be receiving those benefits from both the contributory NIS provision and the compensatory constitutional provision.

Keith preaches that the pension issue “is not simply a trade union matter or a public service matter” and Dickon rephrases it as, the people of Grenada “did not only vote” for paying pension but among other things “to manage the economy well”.

Further to the argument about the impact of the ‘role and capacity’ of the State towards the payment of pension benefits to public officers, on the economy and the development of the nation, is the critical question as to whether or not it was also a considered objective in the introduction of the NIS to have NIS substituting the constitutionally applied 1958 Pensions legislations, or having NIS interfere with and/or provide for the Pensions legislations.

Nonetheless, is the ‘attitude and approach’ by the Government of Grenada to adopt and display this ‘incorporating objective’ as the key attribute of Pension Reform, ‘appropriate and reasonable’?

Is there any other CARICOM country, at least within the Eastern Caribbean region, where public officers are experiencing such agitations for guaranteed State pensions?

Discussions, studies, and agreements regarding a universal social security programme via the NIS, under a Caribbean-wide project by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) started during the early 1970’s by the administration of the Grenada United Labour Party (GULP).

This venture was interrupted due to the military overthrow in March 1979 of the GULP by the NJM which then formed the PRG.

The PRG completed the contract and process with the ILO, obviously within its political philosophy which includes governing by decree without a national constitution, and this resulted in People’s Law 14 (NIA / NIS Act).

With the putting aside of the 1974 Constitution, the entitlement to pension by public officers was severely affected, and those officers were then formally disqualified from the 1958 Pensions legislations by Peoples Law 24 (PDA) but without this Law containing any reference to or any provision about the April’s NIS.

The PRG self-destructed in October 1983, about one month after enacting the PDA in September.

Despite the structure and substance of the PDA and the decision of the PRG in addressing section 47 of the NIS Act, some commentators and PRG’s associates put as an excuse that the abrupt end of the PRG prevented it from completing the ‘statutory transition’ intended to provide for public officers’ pensions fairly in the NIS.

The seeming conspiracy against public officers, with the ‘revolving and precarious’ settlements on their pension benefits, definitely fails the various pronounced commitments by the Government for a motivated and efficient Public Service.

Moreover, the ups and downs about a new pension regime for those officers, with the lack of consolidating the pertinent project reports, defy the principle of the Continuity of Government and may also be confirming the conspiracy thinking.

Each of the various political administrations credits itself for efforts in finding a compromised solution about the pension issue, and claims that the end of its tenure accounts for the incomplete task.

That is, the PRG put the blame on the 25 October 1983 military invasion, then the 1995 -2008 NNP would point to its election defeat on 8 July 2008, and similarly the 2008-2013 NDC would complain about its election loss on 19 February 2013.

The tomfoolery and back-pedalling about finalising a decent pension package for the officers led to the comprehensive lawsuit by the cooperation of the major public service sector trade unions in 2021 and gave rise to the Glasgow 2022 Pensions Judgment.

Has Dickon’s 23 June 2022 NDC rule embarked on effecting the new pension scheme promised for January 2013 by the 2008-2013 NDC?

The ongoing confusion with many twists and turns concerning the pension issue, has been prominently manifested with the disqualification of public officers appointed after 3 April 1983 from the Pensions legislation based on the PDA, and then the disqualification criterion shifted to officers appointed after 22 February 1985 based on the interpretation and stance for the Confirmation of Validity Act (1 of 1985) with the Findlay’s 2012 judgment.

Now the officers to be appointed in the Public Service after January 2024 would have to undergo a new set of ‘requirements of gross disparity’ because of the ‘resounding and remarkable’ Glasgow’s 2022 judgment which appears to be a thorn in the flesh for the Government, and may have prompted Dickon to destroy the constitutional pension source; but would Keith support?

Individuals getting appointed in the Public Service as after January 2024, as well as aspirant public officers, should not sell the birthright of pension benefits as entrenched in the Constitution.

Moreover, all officers enjoying the constitutional pension should not betray the appointees as after January 2024.

J.K. Roberts