Political leader of the main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC), Dickon Mitchell has unveiled his party’s plan to pay public sector employees who are owed over half-a-billion dollars in unpaid pension by the State.
The 44-year old attorney-at-law gave details of the plan Wednesday evening at a Town Hall meeting held in the south of the island to outline the payment scheme which Congress will implement if the party was voted into office to form the next government in the upcoming general election.
He said that the local and regional money markets are very liquid at the moment and an NDC government will borrow the funds at low interest rates from commercial banks and other financial institutions to meet the state’s obligations to public sector employees.
High court judge, Justice Raulston Glasgow handed down a ruling last month which struck down a controversial Pension Disqualification act passed by the 1979-83 left-leaning People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG) of Maurice Bishop which prevented civil servants who joined the service after 1983 from qualifying for a pension.
Dickon Mitchell gave public sector employees the assurance that a Congress government will pay the pension money due to them.
“…We call upon the government to commence the process of paying pensions to any public servant who has and who will retire from the effective date of delivery of the judgement in the high court,” he said.
The NDC leader disclosed that a Congress government will upgrade the Pensions Desk within the Ministry of Finance to facilitate the payments.
He said: “We are satisfied that there is no need for any special advisory body to be set up to address the payments of the pensions. A Pensions Secretariat should have already existed at the Ministry of Finance to facilitate the payment of pensions.
What we will do is to provide the additional resources to the Pensions Secretariat to ensure that the Pensions Secretariat at the Ministry of Finance can properly and adequately work within 90 days of assuming office, and ascertain all of the public workers who are entitled to a pension.”
In addition, he said that the Secretariat will be charged with the responsibility “to ascertain how many of those workers have since passed to the great beyond so that we can assess the payment that has to be made to their estate.
Once we have ascertained the extent of the pension that is due to the public workers we will raise the money – we will if necessary borrow the money either by the issuance of a Government Bond or straight borrowing from financial institutions within the region and we will pay that money to our public servants particularly the public servants who have not been paid their pensions from 1985 to the date of the judgement,” he told the assembled gathering at the Town Hall meeting.
The NDC has literally rebuffed the establishment of a 5-member committee by Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell and the ruling New National Party (NNP) administration to submit a report within a 3-month period on all aspects of the Pension payment.
According to Dickon Mitchell, the Congress is not certain about the actual figure due to civil servants although the government has put it at just over half-a-billion dollars but that NDC has preliminary estimated the cost at between 400-500 million E.C dollars.
He said: “…If ever there was a time when governments within the region and when the government of Grenada is able to borrow and borrow cheaply, it is now. The interest rates that governments can borrow have reduced drastically and in some instances governments can borrow as low as 1 and 3% interest rates on funds.
So, we are satisfied that there is sufficient liquidity within Grenada and the regional market for the government to borrow and to pay the pension,” he added.
The Congress leader pointed out that government’s roll-out of the pension payments will be a benefit to the Treasury itself as the workers will be spending the funds at home and resulting in more tax collections for government through VAT in all aspects of the economy.
Dickon Mitchell also sought to give reassurance to contract workers like Imanis that they will eventually be able to benefit from a pension like established public officers as the plan of a Congress administration is to regularise their employment status and give them job security to borrow money from commercial institutions to improve their livelihood.
“As contract workers, as Imani workers, you have no pension, you have no retirement savings plan, you have no gratuity plan, you have no entitlements to severance and the current administration in many cases, are not paying NIS on your behalf,” he said.
The NDC leader also said the position of Congress is that the right to a pension should be there for all workers in both the public and private sectors.
“Once you are working and once you have worked in your life and you reach retirement, you should be entitled to a pension, you should be entitled to a gratuity,” he remarked.