JUDGES, MPs LOSE
By ANDRE BAGOO Tuesday, July 29 2014
GOVERNMENT yesterday blocked controversial plans for hikes in MPs and judges pensions, as two bills which were poised to be presented to President Anthony Carmona for assent were retracted by way of a House of Representatives motion.
Because the bills – which had been passed in the House of Representatives last month – were deemed “money” bills, under a special provision of the Constitution they would have been presented to the President automatically for his assent during the Parliament recess even though the Senate had not approved them.
But with the end of the session looming, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar yesterday tabled a special motion in Parliament calling for the money bills to not be presented to President Carmona for assent. The motion was passed by a simple vote, with no Opposition MP opposing.
The move came despite the recommendation of a special senate committee which last week, in its report to the Senate, quietly called for the matter to be carried over into the next parliamentary session.
Persad-Bissessar had previously said the Government would “accept and adhere” to the recommendation in the report of that committee. However, the bills were not preserved into the next session and the Prime Minister yesterday told MPs the bills would be allowed to lapse at the end of the session on July 31, “given the public outcry.”
“I have made my position very clear that given the public outcry we should not proceed with those bills,” Persad-Bissessar said at the International Waterfront Centre, Wrightson Road, Port-of-Spain.
The about-turn came notwithstanding the fact that the Government had secured Opposition support for both bills, the Judges Salaries and Pensions (Amendment) Bill 2013 and the Retiring Allowances (Legislative Service) (Amendment) Bill, 2014.
At the same time, the Prime Minister hinted that legislation dealing specifically for reforming judges pensions could be re-drafted.
“I know the judges pensions are long overdue and so in the new session we will give further consideration to that issue,” Persad-Bissessar said. She also left open the possibility of the bills being re-drafted after wider consultation “in a holistic manner.”
“I am still of the respectful view that we should not proceed with those bills for the increases in the pensions as laid out in them without having further consultations and taking the views of all and sundry including legislators from the House, the Senate and other stakeholders,” the Prime Minister said. She gave no indications of a time-line for such a process.
On June 13, the bills were passed in the House of Representatives unanimously after a debate which saw both Government Whip Dr Roodal Moonilal and Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley vociferously support it.
However, when the bills reached the Senate stage, the Prime Minister ordered a freeze on moves to pass them in a marathon sitting, instead saying the Government would listen to the views of Senators – including Independent Senators – and would be willing to refer the matter to a special select committee of the Senate.
Many Independent Senators opposed the legislation, while Government and Opposition Senators backed the bills. The legislation was eventually referred by Government Whip in the Senate Ganga Singh to a special select committee of the Senate which met last week Tuesday. The committee quietly tabled its report one day later during last Wednesday’s sitting of the Senate.
The Senate did not last week pass a motion approving the report, nor did the House of Representatives yesterday. The report was not tabled in the House of Representatives.
Asked yesterday morning if the House of Representatives would pass a motion preserving the work of the committee on the money bills, Government Whip Dr Roodal Moonilal had said, “no”.
The MPs pension bill had proposed increased retirement allowances for MPs — in some cases tripling it; widening the scheme to include the unelected Senators; making it easier to qualify for an allowance and introducing, for the first time, a “termination benefit” for MPs voted out of office after a general election.
The judges pension legislation proposed an increase in the proportion of base pay used to calculate the pension benefit but and a widening of the allowances that must be included in the base for the purpose of the calculation. The effect was almost a doubling of the pension which, for example, would have seen the Chief Justice’s pension move from $50,350 to $93,223.
The move on the part of MPs to increase their own pensions and terms of service was described by former member of the Salaries Review Commission (SRC) as “self-serving”.