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Ramesh: Move embarrassing MPs, Judiciary
Former attorney general Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj says attempts by Government to increase the salaries of Members of Parliament and retired judges is an embarrassment to MPs and undermines the independence of the Judiciary. His comments came as the Salaries Review Commission (SRC) sought a meeting with President Anthony Carmona to discuss the contentious pension increases. It was only last year that the Government moved to increase the salaries of the Prime Minister and MPs.
In a telephone interview yesterday, Maharaj said the sidelining of the SRC by the Executive in the latest salary hike could be seen as a "constitutional crisis." "The AG and the Government has embarrassed the Judiciary and MPs by having negotiations with the Executive in respect of terms and conditions of MPs and Judiciary," Maharaj said. He noted that the Constitution intended to insulate the Judiciary from influence from the Executive and "the SRC is the buffer zone between the government and the Judiciary." "The Government, in entering into negotiations with the Judiciary for better terms and conditions, has embarrassed the Judiciary. The basis for the separation of powers is that the Judiciary must be totally independent from the Executive," Maharaj said.
He said the recent salary hike gives the impression that judicial independence is now compromised.
"This is a constitutional crisis in which the Government must immediately take steps to allow the SRC to take over the process," he said.
Maharaj made it clear he was not saying members of the judiciary and retired judges were not entitled to better terms and conditions.
"However, the process and the procedures used to achieve this leaves much to be desired. It subverts and undermines the independence of the Judiciary and the separation of powers," he said.
Maharaj said the recent moves also have serious implications for citizens.
"If a citizen decides to challenge the Bill and it goes to Parliament, it will mean the Judiciary will have to decide a case in which it is involved in. This is a very serious matter," he said, adding that the Government should have consulted with the Law Association and the general public.
"Whenever you are having unprecedented increases, the members of the public and the law association should have a full say in it, because this will have implications for other sectors of the economy.
“Whatever I am saying, I am not belittling the role that the Judiciary has to play. It may be that they are entitled to better terms and conditions but the process is being done in an arbitrary manner without consultation with the interest groups, members of the public and the Law Association," Maharaj said.
He said the sidestepping the SRC must be condemned.