Heartless Parliamentarians

By Raffique Shah
June 22, 2014

Raffique ShahDisclosure: I am a parliamentary pensioner. I receive the princely sum of $3,000 a month.

In 1976, I was elected Member of Parliament for the Siparia constituency, and I served for five unremarkable years. When I look back at my life, my achievements, my contributions to country, I easily forget those five years.

Last year, a recently retired public servant I knew telephoned me asking if I knew I was entitled to a pension from Parliament. I didn’t, never even thought of it.

To cut a long story short, somewhere along the line the qualifying term was reduced to five years, the pensionable age to 55, and the minimum pension increased from around $800 a month (I believe) to $3,000.

Now, I should add that I wasn’t all excited about this “windfall” because I didn’t think that parliamentarians who served only one term should be entitled to anything. After all, being an MP was not a full time job, and I could think of no other job or profession that offered a pension after so few years’ service.

But I had long passed the age of retirement, and since I received an NIS pension and was not entitled to old age pension, what the hell? I am not a wealthy man, but I have long learned to live moderately and to be satisfied with the little I have.

I should therefore be elated with the pensions’ enhancements for MPs, senators and judges, as presented to and unanimously approved by the House of Representatives last week. Based on what I read, my little “kakada” would double.

But I am not. I am outraged—by the “soft” terms parliamentarians are arranging for themselves, by the whopping increases they believe they deserve, by their arguments, both the opposition PNM and ruling Partnership, that ex-ministers and parliamentarians are entitled to live a “certain standard of life”.

Tell me, what was that “standard” before you were elected MP or named a senator? And what makes you different to every other category of worker or professional, decreeing that you are entitled to a pension after a mere four years of questionable performance?

I hasten to point out that I do not oppose the benefits proposed for retired judges, although the amounts could be reviewed. Judges are invariably experienced attorneys who have practised for a minimum number of years. Their contemporaries remain at the bar and the more successful among them earn millions of dollars a year in fees.

While the bench offers status, the compensation and privileges are woefully inadequate. Worse comes when a judge retires. He (or she) cannot resume practice for seven years, and the pensions payable reduce them to near-paupers. So I fully support the enhancement of retirement benefits for judges, and I would easily add magistrates and other legal office holders (DPP etc) to that list.

Now, I am not against parliamentarians receiving enhanced pensions for service to country, although many citizens would ask if they in fact serve the people or service their pockets. But parliamentarians cannot be compared with judges. What are the minimum qualifications for being an MP or a senator, or, for that matter, being a minister or prime minister?

There is none! Eric Williams once boasted he could “put a crapaud in a balisier tie” to run in a PNM constituency and it would win. That holds true to this day, and it applies to all the main parties. So, to say that most parliamentarians sacrifice significant earnings and potential benefits in the private sector by offering themselves for office is hogwash.

Examine each MP, minister, senator, speaker or what have you, see what he or she did or earned before he was elected or nominated to office, and you would understand where I am coming from.

What the House approved last week was madness. A minister who served for four years, however many years ago, will receive a pension for life of one-third a current minister’s emolument-$20,000 a month! Eight years’ service would yield $30,000, ten years $36,000, 15 years $45,000 and 18 years and over $60,000!

Moreover, an MP or minister who runs for election and is rejected by the electorate will be entitled to a gratuity of six months’ his previous emoluments “to adjust to his new life”. Bear in mind these benefits are not static: as emoluments increase in years to come, the pensions will increase.

The population must reject this madness across the board-PNM, UNC, COP, PP, or any other pee!

Because these lawmakers-unto-themselves are urinating in the faces of tens of thousands of public sector pensioners (public servants, teachers, etc), many of whom eke out an existence on salary levels that obtained in the 1980s and 1990s. They are defecating on tens of thousands more of daily paid workers who get no job-related pension, receive only the NIS $3,000, and do not qualify for old age pension.

Too many old people are suffering in this country-paltry pensions, inadequate health care, no care centres-for a few hundred parliamentarians to retire high on the national hog. Go back to the drawing board and return with something more acceptable.

Heartless, man…you are heartless!

7 Responses to “Heartless Parliamentarians”

  • And calling it rain

    By Terrence Farrell
    June 22, 2014 – trinidadexpress.com

    The pieces of legislation recently passed unanimously in the House in respect of the retirement benefits of legislators and judges helped to clinch for me how the Persad-Bissessar administration can perhaps best be characterised. We saw it before with the Indictable Offences legislation which produced section 34 (also passed unanimously) and its early proclamation; we are seeing it again with the Cybercrime bill. The Interception of Communications legislation was soon followed by the appointment of Reshmi Ramnarine to head the SIA.

    The characterisation that comes to mind is perversion of principle. The behaviour of the administration in all these instances is to use perfectly acceptable principle — the need to redress the pensions of judges, the need to compensate parliamentarians properly, the need to abolish preliminary inquiries and speed up criminal justice, and so on — and to pervert these laudable goals with provisions which are simply obscene.

    The case for significantly improving the salaries of parliamentarians going forward is strong and the Salaries Review Commission, like the other service commissions except the JLSC, is a constitutional dinosaur and slow to act to boot! But there is no good case for redefining pensionable emoluments to include allowances and there is no good case for the retrospective application of this legislation. What about the public servants similarly placed? What precedent does this now set? What will be the result if employees and their unions now seek to redefine ‘pensionable emoluments’ in negotiations with private sector companies? Why not make a reasonable ex gratia adjustment to those affected like retired judges and other similarly placed, and quickly fix the problem of base salaries going forward! Two wrongs do not make a right! And the PNM Opposition has again been caught, as with section 34, supporting this perversity!

    But I can do no better than our calypsonians in characterising this kind of conduct. Two metaphors which I can recall were particularly striking. One metaphor referred to the government as a “coral snake”. As we all should know, the coral snake is one of two deadly snakes found here in Trinidad. Unlike the fearsome mapepire, it has the special characteristic that it is small and its colours are pretty, sometimes causing children attracted by its colours and bead-like appearance, to pick it up to their detriment. The calypsonian (Kurt Allen) was suggesting that this government is wont to offer blandishments and pretty gifts to the unsuspecting and naive, but these “gifts” are deadly to its recipients.

    The other was the use of the saying: “pissing on my head and calling it rain”, cousin to the more familiar saying: “pissing on my head from a height!” In the context of the discourse in the particular calypso, the metaphor speaks to a feeling that the government is treating the population with undisguised contempt! But like the coral snake metaphor, it also suggests that the recipients of the contemptuous sprinkling are naive and can be fooled into thinking the malodorous effluent is nothing but a pleasant passing shower. The calypsonian, Alana Sinnette-Khan, clad in heavy rain coat and boots, was certainly not about to be fooled!

    Surely our politicians will fool us from time to time. But we do not like to be taken for fools – naive, unsuspecting, suborned by pacotille and seduced by bread and circuses! However, the evidence is there. Section 34 was carefully gift-wrapped in an otherwise worthy piece of legislation. But its deadly provision was inserted in Senate committee at the eleventh hour, and its early proclamation left some parliamentarians in both houses looking foolish. In the run up to the THA elections, Tobago was seduced with the promise of internal self government with a Constitution Amendment bill introduced a mere week before the THA election. Although self government has strong support in the sister isle, the canny Tobagonians didn’t bite, and the bill was buried. Those of us who think it is high time for the CCJ to be our final appellate court were excited by the prospect until the actual nature of the proposal was revealed to be a half-picked duck which was in any event a non-starter under the treaty. No bold thunder shower to sweep away the Privy Council, just piss! The leak of the Flying Squad report caught the government with its pants down, probably as it prepared to deliver another delightful “rain shower”.

    I think the calypsonians certainly got it right with the use of these two powerful metaphors. If we continue to be taken for fools, taken in by public relations and taken in by perversion disguised under principle, the shame will be on us!

    Dr Terrence Farrell is a former deputy Central Bank governor and former chief executive of One Caribbean Media Ltd, parent company of the Trinidad Express Newspapers.


  • Yeah Shah I think it is over the top. Plus kickbacks…..it is ridiculous….

  • I agree with you, Raff. These MP’s are feathering their nest while the poor are struggling to live. I wonder if they have forgotten that there is poverty in T&T. Time will tell who will help the poor.

  • Tell us something we did not know already,chong shing.Yep, dem PP political blokes , are a bunch of greedy, self serving bastards.
    Wanna bet, they suddenly loved the PNM bandits, since they were conveniently willing to lie in bed with them, like thieves in the night, to secure a more substantial piece of de Trini economic pie-all the while as poor Trinis , continue to suffer?

    As ‘The Faddah of their Nation -Grandpa Bazdeo,once proclaimed , when he was kicked out of his treasured,UNC fiefdom, by Auntie Kamla, with the help of-who else-an Afro Trini business guru, name Jack Warner-“dis ain’t change , we achieved via this election, but exchange.”
    Who are we to argue with that analysis , by ‘National divider in Chief,’when Auntie K , was an ardent student of his?

    Yeah Uncle Shah, we feel tour pain.This just ain’t what you had envisage, when you teamed up with that London trained actor /lawyer, turn labor activist,back in the those post insurrection days, to form the ULF.
    Let’s just say -de script is still been written,hmmmm?
    I luv dis land, Y tu?

  • A case of robbery with V!

    By Michael Harris
    June 23, 2014 – trinidadexpress.com

    Like thieves in the night, or in this case like thieves in broad daylight, the politicians in our Parliament, all of them, on both sides of the aisle, conspired on Friday 13 last to perpetrate on this already battered nation the most blatant and boldfaced act of self-enrichment ever witnessed in our political history.

    The vehicles used for this political grand larceny were the Judges Salaries and Pensions Amendment Bill 2014, and the Retiring Allowances (Legislative Service) Bill, 2014, both of which were passed in the House without objection or opposition from any quarter and which now go to the Senate for debate.

    These two bills propose sweeping changes to the structure of pensions for judges and parliamentarians the result of which is that these persons would immediately receive huge increases in their pensions; would receive these for life; and in the case of the judges can never have them reversed.

    First the judges, and let us in this context note that the bills for amending the pensions of judges and those of MPs were brought together. In this case we have the irony of parliamentarians seeking to hide behind the robes of judges as they carry out their plan.

    The Judges Salaries and Pensions Amendment Bill proposes, first of all, to index the pensions of judges to the current tax-free salary and tax-free allowances of sitting judges. There are two glaring problems here. First, while the principle of indexation of pensions is a well-known and laudable one, such indexation is commonly tied to cost-of-living increases so that the individual’s actual pension is protected from inflation.

    It is fiduciary madness in the extreme to index pensions to the current salaries of sitting judges. This means, in fact, that recurrent salary expenditure will expand exponentially and can never be controlled.

    The second major problem is the fact that the bill not only indexes pensions to current salaries but seeks to include all tax-free allowances as well. This is unheard of in pension management anywhere and, if passed, would immediately result in a huge explosion of the current pension costs.

    For example, the Chief Justice currently receives a salary of $50,350, a housing allowance of $28,000, a judicial contact allowance of $118,000 and a transport allowance of $5,040. Monthly allowances therefore add up to more than $42,000. So the pension of a retired CJ, instead of being $50,000, will jump to approximately $92,000. The same principle would apply to all other judges and judicial officials.

    For the MPs much the same principles apply. The only difference is that the pensions of parliamentarians are subject to tax and there is a graduated percentage of the salary and allowances depending on years of service. But for parliamentarians too, allowances are now to be included in pensions and indexation is based on current salaries and allowances paid.

    In addition, there is now to be introduced a termination benefit for members of the Lower House when they leave office, which equates to one half of their annual salary in addition to the gratuity paid to all MPs at the end of every term.

    There is no justification for any of this except the blatant and corrupt desire to enrich themselves at taxpayers’ expense. In so doing they set themselves apart from all other citizens and declare themselves untouchable.

    When you and I work all our lives and contribute to our pension plans current legislation decrees that we can only receive as a pension a maximum of two-thirds of our final salaries. Our pensions do not include any allowances which we may have received and in most instances there is no indexation, not even to the cost-of-living, far less to current salaries.

    It is interesting further that both of these bills were introduced and passed in the House without any actuarial report or any kind of financial estimate to suggest what their provisions would mean in terms of costs going forward.

    Almost a year ago, in one of these columns entitled “The corruption plague”, I wrote that “the inability and incapacity of those in government to perform properly leads to a situation in which the best of intentions, even if such existed, swiftly degenerate into a rapacious self-interest as their failure to perform raises the dire prospect of being thrown out of office next time around.”

    That is exactly where we are with this Government. Note that the current Opposition is not even bothering to wait until it gets into government before it unapologetically indulges in its own rapacious self-interest.


  • Warner calls it legalised corruption


    By Ria Taitt
    June 24, 2014 – trinidadexpress.com

    SRC head after meeting President: We weren’t consulted on increases

    Chairman of the Salaries Review Commission (SRC), Edward Collier, says the SRC was not consulted by the Parliament on the two controversial pension bills although the SRC has jurisdiction over pensions for judges and members of Parliament.

    Speaking to the Express, Collier confirmed that SRC members met President Anthony Carmona yesterday to express their concerns on the passage of the two bills in the House of Representatives. ses, first of all, to index the pensions of judges to the current tax-free salary and tax-free allowances of sitting judges. There are two glaring problems here. First, while the principle of indexation of pensions is a well-known and laudable one, such indexation is commonly tied to cost-of-living increases so that the individual’s actual pension is protected from inflation.
    Full Article : trinidadexpress.com

  • Neal, I applaud you for your comments.I read your always read your responses. Continue to enlighten.

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