An “enhanced” pension package for prime minister, president and judges is being proposed in legislation which Government will debate on Monday—and to which the Opposition has objected, says UNC MP Roodal Moonilal.
Moonilal told Parliament reporters yesterday that this was among the contents of an omnibus package of legislation which Government yesterday proposed for debate next Monday morning in Parliament.
Government, in the Lower House yesterday proposed the bill for debate: the Miscellaneous Provisions (Tax Amnesty, Pensions, Freedom of Information, National Insurance, Central Bank and Non-Profit Organisations) Bill 2019.
The first aspect seeks to provide law for the tax amnesty which Government recently said would apply from this month to mid-June.
Other aspects deal with amendments to the Pensions Act, Freedom of Information Act, the National Insurance Act, Central Bank Act and Non-Profit Organisations Act.
Among clauses, the Bill amends the Retiring Allowances (Legislative Service) Act, the President’s Emoluments Act, Chap. 2:50; the Prime Minister’s Pensions Act, Chap. 2:51; and the Judges Salaries and Pensions Act, Chap. 6:02 to streamline the basis on which the retiring allowances of legislators, and the pensions of the President, Prime Minister and Judges, are calculated. The Bill also proposes a revision of those retiring allowances and pensions every five years.
The bill also seeks to amend the Freedom of Information Act, Chap. to extend the period within which a public authority is required to inform an applicant of its decision in relation to a request for information. This period would be extended from 30 days to 90 days.
Also proposed for upcoming debate is the second omnibus of financial legislation—the Miscellaneous Provisions (Financial Institutions, Securities and Insurance) Bill 2019. This amends various financial laws including on securities and insurance sectors.
Yesterday in Parliament, when Government proposed both sets of bills for debate next Monday, the Opposition strenuously objected. Moonilal declared Government was seeking to “...push legislation down our throat.”
The matter was put to a vote with 19 Government votes defeating 14 Opposition votes on the matter. The bills will, therefore, be debated from 10 am next Monday.
Moonilal subsequently explained to reporters why the Opposition had objected on the matter:
“This is a travesty of the democratic process. Under the cloak of dealing with the tax amnesty, Government has introduced—with the first omnibus—amendments on at least eight key national issues including a critical amendment to the Freedom of Information Act that will further extend the time by which Government agencies can provide information from the current 30 days to 90 days.”
“The first package also deals with pension issues involving the Prime Minister, changing terms and conditions of his pension. We understand it deals with an enhanced pension package for the PM and other members - such as judges. But the Prime Minister is the prime focus of this.”
“It’s obscene. This was only brought to the agenda today and we’ll only have the weekend, minus researchers, libraries or data collection and return on Monday to debate such a weighty bill. They could have come next week and done the tax amnesty which is the most critical as that comes into being this month. But the other matters are not critical.
They’re ‘smuggling’ in under the tax amnesty aspect—which people would welcome to get their taxes in order - amendments to increase those pensions and to undermine the FOI Act.”
Moonilal added, “This is coming like a thief in the day. These are issues we ought to consider and debate but it’s obscene to fatten pockets at a time when 10,000 Petrotrin workers are jobless, people are suffering, no drugs in the hospital, yet you seek to enhance the parliamentary salary and terms/conditions of the Prime Minister.”
Moonilal said the proposed aspect of the bill to amend the FOI Act has serious implications. “When Government’s terms end people may still be awaiting their FOIA replies.”
Prime Minister Keith Rowley will miss next week’s debate since the House Speaker announced yesterday he had taken leave from June 7 to 11.
MORE ABOUT THE BILL
The Bill seeks to provide a tax amnesty in relation to certain revenue laws and to amend the Retiring Allowances (Legislative Service) Act, Chap. 2:03; the President’s Emoluments Act, Chap. 2:50; the Prime Minister’s Pensions Act, Chap. 2:51; the Judges Salaries and Pensions Act, Chap. 6:02; the Freedom of Information Act, Chap. 22:02; the National Insurance Act, Chap. 32:02; the Central Bank Act, Chap. 79:02; and the Non-Profit Organisations Act, 2019 (Act No. 7 of 2019).
• The tax amnesty would consist of the waiver of penalties with respect to tax payable under a revenue law specified in the Schedule to the Bill if the tax owed is paid between 15th June, 2019 and 15th September, 2019.
• It amend the Freedom of Information Act, Chap. 22:02, to extend the period within which a public authority is required inform an applicant of its decision in relation to a request for information. This period would be extended from thirty days to ninety days. A public authority would, however, be required to obtain the approval of the Attorney General before refusing a request and the Attorney General would have 90 days to inform the public authority of his decision.
• Amends the National Insurance Act, Chap. 32:02, to empower the Minister to prescribe, by Order, that certain persons are to be regarded as employed in uninsurable employment during a period specified in the Order.
•Amends the Central Bank Act, Chap. 79:02, to require the Central Bank to disclose to the Finance Minister such information pertaining to the human resources and organisational structure of the Bank and such other employment-related information as the Minister may request.
•Amends the Non-Profit Organisations Act, 2019 (Act No.7 of 2019) to remove the 12-month limit on extensions of the time by which an existing non-profit organisation is required to be registered and to allow the Minister to extend, by Order, the time by which an existing non-profit company is required to submit its AML/CFT/PF questionnaire to the Registrar General.