A group of former Assemblymen are now making a public appeal to Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley for assistance in getting a pension from the Tobago House of Assembly.
All the Assemblymen, with combined services of almost 100 years to the Assembly, are from the Democratic Action Congress (DAC) and National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) which were led by Arthur NR Robinson and Hochoy Charles.
Their open appeal comes after two of three letters, written to Rowley from 2016 to 2018, were acknowledged but not acted on.
The 2016 letter was copied to Opposition Leader-Kamla Persad Bissessar and then Independent Senator Dhanayshar Mahabir.
The latest letter, dated February 20, 2018, a copy of which was obtained by Tobago Today, begged Rowley for an appointment at a date convenient to him to discuss the matter.
The letters’ author, Stanley Beard, who served the Assembly for 12 consecutive years, told Rowley: “In 2016, I sent correspondence to you on behalf of former Members of the Assembly who were not included in the present Assembly Pension Plan.”
The letter listed the Assemblymen and their years of service. The list included: Dr Jefferson G Davidson – 20, Gerald Mc Farlane – 12, George Stanley Beard – 12, Regis Caruth 11, Benedict Armstrong – 8 and Beverly Ramsay Moore – 8.
It noted too that the family of deceased Assemblymen also did not receive gratuity or pension benefits. The list of deceased Assemblymen and the number of years they served are as follows: George Archer – 16, Dr JD Elder – 12 Kenneth Murray – 8, Bernadette Des Vignes – 8 and Henry James – 8.
In the February 20 letter, Beard noted that he received a reply from the then-Permanent Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister, who promised him that he would forward all his correspondence to the Ministries of Finance and Attorney General for review and action.
Beard wrote: “I, again in 2017, forwarded correspondence to both the Ministers of Finance and the Attorney General; but to date, I am yet to receive acknowledgements or responses to my letters.”
Speaking to Tobago Today recently, Beard, a former Tourism Secretary who served the Assembly from 1984-2001, said: “It’s unfair to have served and be forced to live without a pension.”
He said prior to the People’s National Movement’s Orville London-led administration, the then-Chief Secretary Hochoy Charles had implemented a workers’ contributory partial pension plan, administered through the Unit Trust Corporation (UTC).
“The UTC plan was stopped when London came into office and a full pension plan started, which included only persons who began serving in 1996 and had served for six years’ service.”
Beard stressed that any Assemblymen who served before that period were not included in the new plan.
Asked why he wrote to Rowley and not THA Chief Secretary Kelvin Charles, he said only Parliament can change existing laws.
Contacted on the issue, Charles confirmed that only Parliament can act on the matter.
“The issue may very well be the nature of the legislation that was enforced at the time... prior to the 1996 Act it was only the Chairman’s position (that) was a full-time position,” Charles said.
Asked if he will show compassion and remunerate the former Assemblymen, as he did in the case of the teacher who was due to receive a pension but whose documents were not complete, Charles said: “The two situations are fundamentally different.”