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‘SRC in snooze mood’

By Andre Bagoo Thursday, June 26 2014

click on pic to zoom in
Opposition Senator Camille Robinson-Regis...
Opposition Senator Camille Robinson-Regis...

OPPOSITION Whip in the Senate Camille Robinson-Regis on Tuesday night rejected objections to moves to increase MPs and judges pensions, saying acrimony and “rats” had come out without justification to oppose the measures. She also asked whether the Salaries Review Commission (SRC) had been “snoozing” on the job.

The PNM Senator was speaking during debate of the Retiring Allowances (Legislative) Amendment Bill, 2014, and the Judges Salaries and Pensions (Amendment) Bill, 2013, debate of which was later adjourned to July 8 by Government Whip Ganga Singh.

“This very important piece of legislation has elicited quite a lot of acrimony in our society and resulted in some rats coming out of their holes,” Robinson-Regis said. “Persons who have served this society and now find themselves almost in a state of mendicancy are being attacked unfairly by persons who are perhaps millonaires in this society.”

She made it clear the Opposition in the Senate would fall in line with their counterparts in the House of Representatives on the issue.

Of retired judges, she said, “The retired judges have said without true fear of contradiction that they have served this country well. They were appreciated when they were on the bench and now off the bench they can barely find the means to live adequately. It is not that this legislation is going to make them millionaires. All it seeks to do is to bring them up to a standard of living that will make them live adequately.”

Robinson-Regis criticised the SRC over reports of complaints by one of its members that the SRC had not been consulted.

“It is shocking that the SRC could be complaining that they were not consulted,” she said. She likened the SRC to a sleeping body, saying the constitutional body was like Rip Van Winkle or Lazarus being resurrected.

“Where were they? To the contrary the SRC was consulted on various occasions,” Robinson-Regis said. “In its last report the SRC confirmed consultations and spoke of a deferral on the issues until conclusion of some permanently pending review. If for over 15 years a body with the duty to recommend has failed to do so are we being told that as a legislature we must not act? I think not. Are we being told today that our power to legislate is abolished because the SRC has found itself incapable? I beg to disagree.”

The PNM senator continued, “Was the SRC in snooze mood? Were they snoozing? Act we must and act we will. The law and the precedents are on the side of the legislature.” She said the matter had been pending at least since 2005 and many retired judges had died since.

Robinson-Regis gave a personal account of one of her university friends. She said the daughter of Justice Clement Phillips, upon his death, was unable to continue her studies. Judges on the bench at the time got together and funded her, Robinson-Regis said.

On MP pensions, she said society was misconceived.

“Parliamentarians must be treated like dogs – that is what this society believes,” she said. “You must come to work, work hard and then at the end of the day be kicked and ill treated. We who have chosen public service must let this society understand that we have decided that we are doing a job of public service. It does not mean that we must be ill-treated. That must never be fair.” She said persons opposed to the measures, “Sit in their ivory towers and pontificate on all kinds of issues and sometmes deliberately mislead the public.

As a responsible Opposition we have listened to all the views some of those comments were quite disparaging and inaccurate. In the main those comments were misleading.” She said those who say there is a conflict of interest with MPs determining their own pay said nothing when the SRC itself determined its own salary levels.

Robinson-Regis, however, suggested changes to the legislation relating to how judges pensions are to be computed. She suggested some allowances, such as the judicial contact allowance, be removed and that the pension be indexed to salary. She said the Senate can amend a money bill.

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