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SOS to Carmona: Opposition Leader wants review of MPs’ pay

Tuesday, July 1, 2014
Leader of the Opposition Dr Keith Rowley during a press conference yesterday at the office of the Leader of the Opposition, Charles Street, Port-of-Spain. PHOTO: SHIRLEY BAHADUR

Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley has written to President Anthony Carmona calling on him to “immediately request the Salaries Review Commission (SRC) to undertake an urgent review of the salaries and other conditions of service of non-executive Members of Parliament.” Rowley’s letter was dated March 20 but was released to the media yesterday after a news conference he held at his  office at Charles Street, Port-of-Spain. In his letter he told the President that no anti-corruption effort would be successful without the required political will. He suggested that for efforts to reform the functions of the Parliament “as an oversight body must be institutionalised by establishing and equipping Parliament with adequate strength, authority and resources.”


Rowley has maintained that the work of parliamentarians was full-time and they should be appropriately compensated. It comes as debate on two controversial bills — the Judges Salaries and Pensions (Amendment) Bill and the Retiring Allowances (Legislative Service) (Amendment) Bill — is expected to resume in the Senate this morning. The bills, presented last week by Environment and Water Resources Minister Ganga Singh, seek to increase pension for judges and MPs. The legislation has been the subject of much criticism from former head of the public service Reginald Dumas, former Independent Senator Martin Daly and others. Dumas and Daly wrote to all 41 senators, saying they should not support the legislation as it was being debated in contempt of the Salaries Review Commission (SRC), which was constitutionally responsible for recommending the terms and conditions of employment for those officials.


Dumas said the legislation should be approved for a specific time pending full determination by the SRC. But Rowley said he did not share that view, adding that for the past several years the SRC had failed to look at the issue of pensions and it was because the SRC had not addressed the issue that the Cabinet had to deal with it. He denied the perception that the Government and Opposition “got together one night in a unique bi-partisan way to create benefits for MPs.” The bills were approved in the House of Representatives on June 13. He said he was of the understanding that the SRC was to make recommendations to the Cabinet  and for the Cabinet to adjudicate on those recommendations. “The SRC does not and is not required to fix the terms and conditions of the persons who fall under the SRC,” he added.


Rather, he said, the SRC was required to make recommendations for MPs and judges “so as to allow the Cabinet to either accept, modify or reject those recommendations.” It was a misrepresentation, he said, to claim that the SRC had been bypassed and the Cabinet and parliamentarians were hastily fixing up themselves and he also dismissed claims that the SRC was not consulted over the proposed pension increases for MPs and judges. The problem was, he said, the SRC ”had taken the position that ‘We are not going to make any recommendations on this matter,’ even when it accepted that it had received a remit to do so. He explained: ”Because the SRC has taken the position that it is not going to deal with this matter of making recommendations for a matter which the parliamentarians believe ought to be adjusted, the parliamentarians at the Parliament and the Cabinet have gone forward with the matter. “The SRC, a recommending body, has taken the position that we are not treating with this matter of the pensions.”


Rowley said the pension bills represent “the culmination of a process not the initiation of a process for the benefit of those who are legislating it.” There were several documents which were available to the SRC as a basis for its recommendations, he said, among them the Strategic Plan of the Parliament 2013 to 2018, which was a description of the work of parliamentarians.
He told reporters the reports, which have been adopted, would take effect by August. The Parliament, he said, had accepted that “the SRC was not prepared to make recommendations on that matter and in some instances had taken the position that is not our remit.” He said the Opposition had some concerns about some generous provisions in the bill but was prepared to make the amendments at the appropriate time, and, in the end, “we accept that something acceptable will be there,” adding that the Government had not stopped debate on the measures, as it will continue in the Senate. Rowley explained that the provision to reduce the qualifying period for pension for parliamentarians from five years to four years was because the actual term of an MP could be a few months short of five years and consequently they might not qualify for it. 


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