The New Today

Letters

Why vote in Grenada’s elections: Know behind the scenes – Part IV

The attitude, assault and activism displayed by the political directorate against the constitutional entitlement of public officers for pension-benefits, offer an interesting and instructive case-study of Politics and Government.

Indeed, this case-study would feature the typical experiences in Grenada on the issue of retirement pensions which also covers the running and reputation of the National Insurance Scheme (NIS).

A wide range of diverse dimensions is witnessed and pondered, and can be explored; but particularly, the strategies, the skirtings and the shams associated with the “behind-the-scenes” in the Government’s transactions and treatments on State pensions to public officers must be grasped objectively and clearly.

The unscrupulous and unsympathetic, as well as selfish and shameless, denial of the State pensions to public officers for the greater part of over three decades thus far, leaves a lot to be desired of Grenadian politicians.

Unfortunately, the lack of ‘good faith and goodwill’ closure of this ‘legally liable’ display on the part of the politicians and the tremendous irreversible distresses and losses it has caused and is causing to retired public officers, would remain.

The probably first constitutional court-case challenge to this gross offence on the dignity and welfare of the officers happened sometime during the latter part of 1987 to Galway Donovan (Civil Appeal No. 9 of 1987) and the plight piled to the current case affecting all qualified and qualifying officers as relate to the 29 March 2022 Judgment by Justice Raulston L. A. Glasgow (Claim No. GDAHCV2019/0224).

Although each of the number of judicial protests to the Government’s vulgarity and brute-force is somewhat unique having different circumstances, the substantial ‘direct and definite’ conclusion surrounding the cases is that ordinary legislations passed by the Parliament cannot supersede the entrenched provisions of the 1973 Constitution Order and this must be valued for generic applications.

A ‘rule-by-decree’ spin resulted in the focused recurring argument on the validity and applicability of the 1983 Pensions (Disqualification) Act (PDA) as enacted by the People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG) of the New Jewel Movement (NJM) party.

Notwithstanding the pertinent cases of Richard Duncan (Civil Appeal No. 13 of 1997) and Irvin McQueen (Civil Appeal No. 17 of 1997) which set the precedence that the PDA is null and void and is inconsistent with the Constitution, the powers-that-be decided to be on a ‘Merry Go Round’ been fueled by the exploitation of the 1985 Confirmation of Validity Act, and thereby placing public officers in a precarious and puzzled position about pensions.

In fact, a most disgusting situation surfaced when legal advisor to Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell, Dr. Lawrence A Joseph, proves to have been relying on this Validity Act, together with international references, to declare ‘contextual, moral and legal’ authority of the PDA in his July 2017 publication “Is the Pensions (Disqualification) Act Valid?”

The October 2012 Justice Margaret A Price-Findlay judgement on the Hermilyn Armstrong case (Claim No. GDAHCV 2010/0423) also took center-stage in affording an opportunity for serious resolution on the outstanding pensions’ issue, but once again both of the main political parties deflected from taking decisive and prompt measures.

Instead, the trend adopted with a plethora of lip-service towards resolving this issue, has been to seek legal interpretations and implications and to generate academic projects for the financial gains of cohorts.

Former PRG’s executive, Joseph E. Layne, tries to clarify the rationales for the 1983 PDA and tends to concur with the position of Dr. Lawrence that the PDA took effect from 22 February 1985 and thus he hails the ruling by Findlay, through a series of writings on “Pension Rights Of Public Officers In Grenada”.

Also recall the past internet article, “Was The Pensions (Disqualification) Act Necessary?”, which outlines that the purported “real intention of the PRG” for the PDA could have been achieved without passing it in the current form, that the post-PRG governments failed to review it and to perform the proper requirements, and that Armstrong did not receive ‘natural and comprehensive’ justice.

The 1985 Validity Act was enacted by the government of Herbert Blaize’s New National Party (NNP), and both Lawrence Joseph and Keith Mitchell had ‘active and strong’ administrative roles then and seem now to enjoy steering the ‘merry-go-round’.

The Act was used to shortchange Armstrong and appeared as a factor in the Government’s submissions to deplore and dismiss the joined claims by the Grenada Public Workers’ Union (GPWU), Grenada Union of Teachers (GUT) and Grenada Technical and Allied Workers’ Union (GTAWU) in the recent court-case.

The GUT’s President, Jude Bartholomew, rightly expressed with passion and profoundness at a ‘victory and gratitude’ press conference following the Judgement on the case, that the pension-benefits were unceremoniously robbed by politicians; “they took it away, this pension was in the Constitution of Grenada, we didn’t have to fight for it, we shouldn’t have to fight for it”.

Adding insult to injury, further to the ignoring of those precedent lawsuit-judgments, is the existence of the 1989 Pension (Members of Parliament) Act, Cap. 232, enacted by the NNP government to provide for the payment of pension and gratuity to former members of Parliament; and that of the 1989 Pension (Governor-General) Act, Cap. 231, for the payment of a pension and gratuity in respect of the office of Governor-General.

Moreover to cheat subtly, the 1958 Pensions Acts (Cap. 233, Cap. 235, Cap. 236 and Cap. 245) were amended to represent and rivet the disqualification-provisions of the 1983 PDA, and in 2003 the Special Pensions Act (Cap. 308B) was passed virtually to replace those Acts and provide for payments of pensions to persons appointed by the Government on or after 4th April 1983.

How do Cap. 231 and Cap. 232, as well as the statutory provisions for public officers in Grenada and their struggles to secure State pensions, compare with whatever obtained in other nations of Caricom; and shouldn’t this be of concern especially on the harmonising of policies with the Caribbean Single Market and Economy?

The release of the 2022 Glasgow’s Judgement on the verge of an anticipated calling of general elections puts Prime Minister Mitchell in a state of shock and awkwardness and on the back foot, ascribing merit to his NNP-government for the past accomplishments to solve the problem of the pensions and summoning the Committee of Social Partners for discussing the way forward.

At the same time, the opposition party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) is seeking to obtain mileage by gauging NNP’s effectiveness and genuineness on the problem based on it (NNP) forming the Government for the longest period, and by raising NDC’s own efforts being initiated and the reasons for not reaching completions.

There has also been the blaming of PRG’s Prime Minister Maurice Bishop for the 1983 PDA. But; should those defensive pronouncements, scattered snapshots, annoying noises and conciliatory gestures be accepted?

Related:  Is a war brewing between Grenada’s Prime Minister and Supervisor of Elections?

Whilst any good intention of the PRG for Pensions Reforms in Grenada, with considerations for equity on social security for all citizens as inspired by the International Labour Organisation and for easing the financial burden of the State with the emoluments for public officers, must be applauded, the ridiculous faults and failures of the NNP and the NDC on the problem, cannot be left unnoticed for unconditional condemnation towards mistrust.

Indeed, here is an unfolding reality of the quote, “Oh what a tangled web we weave … when first we practice to deceive” (from Walter Scott’s epic poem, Marmion: A Tale of Flodden Field).

Principally the 1983 PDA was to phase in/usher in the NIS which came into effect with the 1983 National Insurance Act (Cap. 205), and sections 46 and 47 of the Act are apparently meant to address how any existing pension-benefits for public officers and employees of public bodies are to be incorporated and honoured.

Noteworthy are the remarks of the Judges in the pensions’ lawsuits, about the noncompliance of the Government on those aspects of Cap. 205. Aren’t there mounting evidences that ‘hypocrisy, conspiracy, concealment, malfeasance and recklessness’ form the order for the ‘merry-go-round’ about the pensions to Government’s workers?

A cautious and reasonable national administration which has uncertainties about the ‘full restoration’ of the 1958 pensions’ legislations for public officers, but has determined about expecting a win-win scenario for the people of Grenada from whatever is the outcome of a robust constitutional challenge, would make appropriate preparations such as budgetary allocations in an escrow account, and updated databases on the employment and retirement status of all the officers.

The crying, fussing and guessing by the NNP government about the administrative tasks and possibly legal implications associated with the Judgement to pay the officers must also be seen as evidence of the ‘bad operation and management disarray’ in the Public Service.

In particular, the need for judicial redress on the pensions and the posed complexity to meet the Court’s Order, place an indictment on the Public Service Commission (PSC) which could be shown to be an accomplice against respecting the Constitution and enhancing the Public Service, since PSC must concur with any law for an authority to refuse, to withhold, to reduce, or to suspend the pension-benefits derived from the 1958 Pensions Acts.

Should the pensions for public officers and including Judges be of any major issue for the next elections? Emphatically without reservation, NO!

The ‘era and impact and advantage’ concerning this ‘weighty and worthy’ issue was gambled by the public sector workers unions (mainly GUT, GPWU and GTAWU); the ideal situations were during the campaigning in 1999 and in 2013.

Dr. Mitchell capitalised on Armstrong’s case and declared on a political stage that he was encouraged by renowned NJM executive and regional trade unionist, Chester Humphrey, not to appeal the Findlay Judgement; and for the March 2018 elections Mitchell grew in duping the unions by having them negotiate constitutional rights and sign a confidential Memorandum of Understanding.

He then celebrates that the pensions are restored and in July 2018 his Government amended the Pensions Acts accordingly.

Bartholomew exclaims, the politicians “just love us conveniently for our votes, that’s what they love us for”; but oh how very late is this acknowledgement!

Review the October 2017 internet-circulated article, “Grenada’s Government Pension Proposal Is Absurd”, impressing public officers to be critical and wary of the posture and utterance of politicians and that despite which party forms the Government, they ought to be relentless in the pursuit of natural justice.

Neither the ruling NNP nor the opposing NDC has pledged to immediately repeal the 1983 PDA; or, at least explain why this cannot be done. None has given the commitment to forego the benefits derived from the 1989 Parliamentarians’ Pensions Act for the immediate future; or, at least to discuss an increase of the time served before receipt.

None has commented on the need for urgent and meaningful adjustments to the 1983 NIS Act and for the responsible Minister to make regulations with respect to the intent of its matching Act (PDA); or, at least to discuss the impediments and/or implications.

None of the parties has identified any feasible mechanism and creditable source to fund the financial impact from Glasgow’s Judgement, without more hardships on the general population and constraints on the unions.

What are the parameters and/or demands expected of international bodies such as the Commonwealth, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in dealing with the pensions-arrears to public officers?

The NNP needs to disclose the findings of the various committees and projects established over the years towards solving the problems, and the NDC needs to disclose the legal opinions received and the reports of the Pension Planners and Actuary about the pensions; and with the related costs.

Is any of the parties serious and forthright about the intrigues for linking the constitutionally guaranteed pensions with the external recipes for Public Service Sector Reforms and for overall Pensions Reforms also involving NIS?

Review past article, “Grenada’s Pension Reform is Under the IMF”; and also seek insights of “behind-the-scenes” by making reference to the Report on Pension and Pension Administration Reform in The Eastern Caribbean Currency Union, by Marius St. Rose and submitted around July 2010.

Why does a court-of-law have to decide on an entrenched constitutional provision for Grenada, when that provision is ‘direct and definite’ and pertinent precedents can be cited?

This questions the capacity and integrity of the politicians, especially when they have sworn to faithfully execute the role of the office of the Executive of Government without fear or favour, affection or ill-will and to honour, uphold and preserve the Constitution which has not changed by the required referendum since 7th February 1974.

A Government facilitating, enforcing and honouring fake and/or unconstitutional laws is treason to the State.

It must not be missed though, that whilst the political directorates are the ultimate custodians of national affairs, they are ‘coached and condoned and championed’ by technicians of various disciplines, in and out of the Executive of Government and of the bureaucracy of the Public Service.

Thus these experts are equally liable for the state of affairs of the institutes and issues of governance. Many of them who assisted in designing and implementing harsh programs, and have remained mute, are now parading as political candidates with the acumen to contribute to ‘real lasting’ socio-economic justice and constitutional rights, using the 2022 Judgement for public officers as a flag.

J.K. Roberts