By J K Roberts
After forty-one years of the Independence of Grenada, there are glaring evidences that Grenadians are made to be locked into vulnerable oblivions, political patronages, gloried malfeasances and constitutional abuses by the government. Also typical of the sad reality is that the institutions and systems of governance continue to be engulfed by ‘extraneous forces’, and national offices are brought into disrepute. Most regrettable, the ambition by the powers-that-be for constitutional reform is not about arresting this embarrassing position but rather, the aim is to intensify the plight of the Grenadians with impunity for the perpetrators.
It is unwarranted to have some persons, who for the most part might be ignorant and naïve on the pertinent issue, showering praises on Prime Minister Mitchell for his utterance about “pensions” for public officers, in his Independence celebration address on 7 February 2015. Within objective and proper context, the particular utterance is ‘misleading and mistreating’ and definitely it also points to a considerable measure of arrogance and autocracy.
Inter alia the Prime Minister said, “Regarding the issue of pensioners post 1983, who have only been receiving pension since then through NIS (‘National Insurance Scheme’), the Court has now moved that government too, has to contribute. We recognize the ruling, and we will set up a committee to engage the Trade Unions in finding a compromise solution”. This statement cannot be taken for any comfort, since it exposes more concerns on the particular issue; especially in consideration of the modus operandi and record of the government.
A crucial concern is how must the Grenadian people interpret the “compromise solution” relative to the “Court’s ruling”. The Prime Minister failed to mention the actual court case, so that the accuracy of certain aspects of his utterance can be ascertained. Really, honouring the Ruling is not dependent on getting consent from the trade unions; it has been individual public officers over many years who had ‘risked and sacrificed’ to take the harsh treatment which they experienced directly on their welfare, up to the London-based Privy Council for relief.
The referred statement is loaded with ‘irregularities and inconsistencies’ and it lacks ‘substance and sincerity’. It must therefore be dismissed as ‘pure rhetoric’, unless the contents are qualified and proven otherwise. The credibility of the statement also hinges on having clear indications of redemptions for the wrongs and sufferings that have been experienced by public officers from the government under the administration of the Right Hon. Dr Keith Mitchell, from 1995 to 2008, at the gross expense of the prosperity, development and resilience of the nation.
Dr Mitchell, the nation needs thorough explanation(s) towards ‘solid closure’ for the tremendous charge been placed on the taxpayers by the government to pursue maliciously, court cases against the constitutional entitlement of public officers to receive pensions, gratuities, retirement benefits and other allowances. The situation has been so ‘ridiculous and outrageous’, especially when there have been legal, professional and technical declarations that the Pensions (Disqualification) Act is void to the extent of the provisions for the protection of “pensions” for public officers. Donovan vs The Attorney-General Civil Appeal No. 9 of 1987 provides a ‘leading precedent’ conclusion that the rights conferred by the constitution cannot be amended (reduced, modified or revoked) by ordinary legislation; as is the case, for example, in regard to the Public Service Re-Organisation Act of 1987 and the Pensions (Disqualification) Act of 1983.
The problem which surrounds the Pensions issue originated from a blunder with the enactment and application of the Pensions (Disqualification) Act. The blunder was inadvertently made in an atmosphere of ‘popular people’s power’ under the People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG) when the Constitution was suspended. The blunder is of legal dimensions and has ugly consequences, which the PRG then determined to rectify. Interestingly, the blunder could easily be reversed or corrected by subsequent Administrations however, it has been gladly embraced by political insensitivity and made to confound the resolve of the trade unions. A ‘disturbing thought’ though, is that in 1989 an Act was passed to provide for the payment of pension and gratuity to parliamentarians, who will in addition be also receiving pension through NIS.
The failure of the Government to redress the blunder with the “Disqualification Act” is a mystery, even after the so-called “complete restoration” in 1991 of the Constitution. The problem is not only about constitutional irregularity but the failure to solve it also impacts on ‘natural and moral justice’, as well as on ‘social consciousness and responsibility’. Moreover, the blunder has implications for the realization of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME), as it extends to ‘inequity and disparity’ for Grenada’s public officers in social security and security of tenure, amongst professional colleagues and counterpart employees in the Region.
Dr Mitchell, enough is enough. You have had a field day with the Public Service of Grenada for virtually two decades. Now should be reckoning time for you to ‘deliver better’, but this must not be with negative and meaningless connotations and effects. Grenadians cannot afford to go through another version of vicious cycle of deceits, which could be legitimized with Grenada acceding to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). The Pensions issue has been a trying recurring decimal, in which the parameters are constantly shifted to arrive at an answer.
We all must further be reminded that in 1995 a Pension Review Committee was Cabinet-appointed, “with a view to the developing of a suitable plan of retirement benefits for public officers”, and the 2008 Budget Statement presented that the Government awaits the findings of the Actuary and Pension Planner from the firm of Bacon Woodrow and DeSouza out of Trinidad who has been retained to examine the implications of various pension schemes, recommend an appropriate one for Grenada and suggest proposals for its financing …”. What’s about others?
The fact remains that pensions, gratuities, retiring benefits and other allowances for public officers, which also includes government’s teaching, security and medical staffs, are not at the pleasure or the pity of the government, nor are these at the discretion or the deliberate judgement of the politicians. Grenada’s Independence Constitution has fully and clearly established “pensions” provisions for public officers. There is no need to set up any committee for whatever reason again on the Pensions issue; the most decency of the government is to honour its constitutional obligation. It would have been an excellent Independence celebration for the government and the people of Grenada for Dr Mitchell to have unequivocally declared proactive moves to repeal the pensions (Disqualification) Act and to respect public officers.
The question remains, what type of “compromise solution” to be expected? Would public officers again be taught to ‘cooperate for country’ under the disguise of the Social Compact and Project Grenada, which are some of the themes raised in the ‘political electioneering’ address.
The various trade unions representing Public Service Sector Workers should not be hasty in commenting on Prime Minister Mitchell’s utterance on the Pensions issue; or at least they should be very cautious with any attempt to respond. The trade unions must be warned that “pensions” for public officers is non-negotiable, and in fact this should not form part of pertinent discussions, for salaries and fringes benefits; and by extension, for any agreement to facilitate the International Monetary Union (IMF) under the Home Grown ‘austerity’ Structural Adjustment Programme? Grenada Union of Teachers (GUT) must especially be wary that this issue be not factored in a biased way, in the outstanding need to regularize the employment of its teachers.