by J K Roberts, Sound Public Policies Advocate
Even though this may have never been the case before, Grenadians waited eagerly to listen to the Government’s highly promoted national address by Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell on 1 June 2017.
No doubt, the most compelling and significant factor from the promotion being the restoration of pensions and the introduction of a national health insurance. Was the wait vain, or was there a measurable level of disappointment with the address? Did the address present any special serious grandeur; or, were there emphatic confirmations of the disdainful and deceitful modus operandi of governance by the powers-that-be?
The future welfare of public officers and government retirees in Grenada has been grossly jeopardised with the refusal by the powers-that-be to honour their constitutional entitlements on pensions; a disparity and injustice to which the Heads of Caricom continue to be unconcerned and mute. This predicament commenced with the suspension of the 1974 Independence Constitution and with the enactment of the 1983 Pensions (Disqualification) Act by the People’s Laws of the People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG). The anxiety to have the restoration of the pensions was intensified when the Constitution was completely restored by August 1991, but allowable to exist and be applied subservient to the Disqualification Act.
Various rulings by the London-based Judicial Committee of the Privy Council condemn the unconstitutional conduct of withholding the pensions; yet those rulings are being ignored by the powers-that-be. From 1995, public officers with their trade unions have been taken on a cruel ride toward arresting their distresses about the pensions, by Dr Mitchell’s New National Party (NNP) Government; interestingly, Mitchell has been associated with the powers-that-be and its insensitivity on the pensions issue from the post-PRG era (virtually1984 to date). The ride covers the establishment of review committees, consultant studies, pensions reforms and project proposals at huge financial and opportunity cost to taxpayers; but a cost which is yet to be grasped and ascertained fully. The internet circulated article “No Prime Minister Mitchell: Not Again!” makes for good references on how the pensions issue has been made a recurring decimal and a blame-game, with the parameters constantly shifting to arrive at an answer.
In the 2016 Throne Speech, Her Excellency Dame Dr Cecile La Grenade, postulates “pension reform remains perhaps the most significant issue negatively affecting the Public Service” and that the Government remains firmly committed to finding a collaborative and comprehensive solution to this problem has begun the process of bringing this issue into resolution within an 18 to 24-month period …. the first step taken was to seek independent, technical advice from the Caribbean Regional Technical Assistance Centre (CARTAC).
The political rhetoric and unconscionable betrayal to public officers and trade unions continue to unfold as Labour and Economic Affairs Minister Oliver Joseph aggrieved them by failing to give a concrete statement on the pensions issue when addressing workers on International Labour Day, 1 May 2017. Joseph, a past unionist who at one time commented that the Public Workers’ Union develop a strategy to get Government to agree to the restoration of pension rights and other related matters, generated hype amongst the workers for the celebrations, as he had promised at a press briefing to make a major announcement on the issue.
The NNP Government has been trying to convince persons that it is challenged financially to restore the pensions, but this is being done without it giving a clear account or breakdown of the cost. Moreover, no one is certain on whether or not that the Government has recognised and incorporated the pensions-amount as part of the national debt. Minister Joseph declared that “some studies have estimated a cost for pension restoration to be within the vicinity of one billion dollars” and added, “the government will solve the problem and restore pensions to state employees in a manner that is sustainable and just”. However it must be disturbing to realise that earlier, the Government had reported on 27 April 2017 that Dr Mitchell says that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) will assist his administration to undertake a reform of the existing pension scheme; the IMF pledged the continuation of technical assistance in the area of pension reform and Mitchell said that “they know we have a difficulty there.” What will be the cost-benefits and the fiscal arrangements on this issue with the involvement of the IMF?
The Washington-based financial institution, IMF, has recently supported Grenada with a three-year (2014 – 2016) so-called Home-Grown Structural Adjustment Programme which placed austerity measures on the people, with increases in taxes and with constraints on public spending by the Government. The Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2015 was introduced cleverly, which amongst other things instructed that public officers undergo a salary freeze and abide with set limitations for industrial negotiations. Regrettably, public officers are ensnared to make the most sacrifices and to be forever at a disadvantage, while facilitating the pleasure of the continuous receipt of pensions by other State officials such as the Governors-General and the parliamentarians, as well as facilitating vast tax reliefs for foreign investors. The previous internet article “An Open Appeal For Amendment to the Pensions Act 1990” also helps to bring the predicaments of public officers and government retirees into sharp focus.
The appropriate context of the Prime Minister’s 1 June address should be derived from the aspect, “there is a clear correlation between our economic policies that have laid a good foundation for sustainable growth going forward, the need to liberalise the energy sector and the need to bolster the services in the tourism sector. A country that has no sound economic construct can never be able to take better care of its people. And our move to set up a National Health Insurance scheme, and our determination to restore the pensions of public servants, will never become realities unless there is a sustainable economic construct. That is why everything that we do, as a government, is intertwined in this overall development agenda. And while we have delivered a lot, we still have these two big ticket items to deliver: pension restoration and National Health Insurance. And we still have more people to lift out of poverty”.
How then must Grenadians consider and conclude Mitchell’s 1 June 2017 National Address? Particularly; is it a matter of all hopes dashed for public officers and government retirees to receive pensions, having the best scenario being a daunting set of new targets and conditions for the pensions? Or is the address a call for re-energising and instigating the people to join forces with the Government to demean and to turn up the heat on GRENLEC; as Mitchell elucidates “it is unfortunate that the attitude of GPP/WRB Enterprises (parent company of GRENLEC) has been hostile to the very idea of the sovereign government of Grenada seeking to liberalise the electricity sector to provide a fair opportunity for all”?
The Warning: No IMF, No Pensions! No Oil and Gas, No Pensions! No Electricity Liberalisation, No Pensions! Rex Grenadian a poor representation of the Grenadian brand, No Pensions! What is the reaction and resolve of the Labour Movement and Social Groups?
J K Roberts is a ‘premature retiree’ of the Public Service of Grenada, and author of two books Into The 21st Century (1995) and Management Practices in The Public Service of Grenada (2011).