Sewer rat snarls

By Raffique Shah
June 29, 2014

Raffique ShahAt the risk of being branded a snarling sewer rat by Senator Camille Robinson-Regis, I return to the issue of pensions for parliamentarians. Following expressions of outrage from a broad cross section of the population, across partisan lines, over the pensions approved unanimously by members of the House of Representatives, the Prime Minister made a mild retreat.

She said she would allow senators to debate the bill and propose amendments, and referred to possibly setting up a Senate committee to review the contentious issue. The populace expected senators, more so the independents, to attempt to bring some sanity to what is an insane piece of legislation.

Thus far, that has not happened. Instead of heeding the cry for some equity and common sense in determining pensions for parliamentarians, senators had a field day jamming those who dared to disagree with the overly generous, self-approved bounties. They wildly applauded Robinson-Regis as she tore into critics she called rats, and members of the Salaries Review Commission (SRC).

The message from the Senate was that parliamentarians are entitled to the best pensions packages in the world, and “who don’t like it could get to hell out of here”.

Now, I don’t know if these people are for real. They are saying to us that even though they voluntarily offered themselves for the offices they hold, presumably well aware of the compensation packages on offer before they took the plunge, they have the right to alter the terms and conditions so drastically, they are fixed for life, even as 99 per cent of pensioners suffer in silence on pensions of $4,000 a month or less.

Listening to Robinson-Regis on the attack, the uninformed would believe that the SRC failed to heed parliamentarians’ cries for proper salaries and perks for 15, 20 years. You would think that heartless members of the SRC fixed themselves, and ignored the dogs (Robinson’s description) in parliament.

What are the facts? The most recent SRC review of salaries for some 300 classes of public officers amounting to 900 persons was completed in November 2013 and debated and approved in Parliament in February last. Before that, a 2008 review recommended no increases because of the state of the economy (I did not read that report, but I gathered as much from the debate). This means that the last time those who fall under the purview of the SRC had increases was in 2005.

Almost all the officers who fall under the SRC—these include a host of obscure commissioners and office holders in institutions such as COSTAATT, Police Complaints Authority—receive a host of benefits in addition to their basic salaries. Priority is given to a duty-free, VAT-free motor vehicle for which government loans are granted.

In addition to this facility, the office-holders enjoy a transport allowance, mostly at around $5,000 a month. Ministers also enjoy allowances for subsistence, entertainment, housing ($12,360) and overseas travel ($36,800 per annum), and so on.

Based on the SRC recommendations, approved by Parliament, the PM’s basic salary moved to $59,680 a month (taxable), up from $48,000, and her overall package (excluding housing, entertainment, official vehicles etc) stands at around $75,000. Ministers make $41,000 basic, with packages of $61,000. And at the lower end, MPs and senators make $21,000 (includes transport) and $13,000 respectively.

By national standards, these are not very high salaries and allowances. In the energy and finance sectors, CEOs make more than $100,000 a month. But CEOs are held to account for their performances and they can be summarily fired by boards.

Let me now return to the contentious pensions issue. There are several fundamental flaws in what is being proposed. First is the minimum service—four years. If in an MP’s (or senator’s) life, he or she served only five years, what did he/she do otherwise? Lahay? Locho? I served for five years, and I worked my butt off to take care of my family, living modestly and saving a few dollars in the process.

The minimum service for pension should be ten years.

Second, how can they even think of factoring in all allowances in calculating pensions? Surely, pensions cannot include allowances such as duty, transport, subsistence, overseas travel, and so on.

Third and most important, how dare they index pensions to current emoluments? That is not simply vulgar, it is unsustainable. Trade unions have fought for decades to have workers’ pensions indexed to the cost of living, which is a fair way to allow pensioners to meet increased expenses as they grow older. The unions have failed in most instances.

If senators approve all of the above anomalies, then they can expect the unions and associations that represent all categories of public sector workers, from public servants to teachers, policemen to health sector, to justifiably demand similar pensions-calculations and pensions-indexing for their tens of thousands of members and retirees.

Can you say no to them after you have said yes to yourself? I guess you can—if you are unconscionable, which is what most politicians are. They plead with us to feel sorry for them, but they have no compassion for the most vulnerable in society.

3 thoughts on “Sewer rat snarls”

  1. Ain’t this something people?Kamla ,her handlers,and conniving Cabal manipulators ,in her PP government, initiated their over the top, life time pension increases-like bandits, under cover of darkness-using the guise ,that they were really , looking out for retired Judges, but who is that is suddenly feeling the wrath of our Uncle Shah? Yep, another irrelevant member of ‘Afro Kink Head Nation.’
    Yes sir ,and right up there with T&T crime realities.
    Africans, Indians, Syrians, French creoles, Spanish, Chinese, Syrians, Jews, Lebanese, old money Europeans, and all of our respective cross tribal peoples, played a role in turning our T&T, into an enticing crime den, so much so ,that our clueless politicians , and confuse law enforcement gurus , are scratching their collective heads ,in consternation, while seeking relief from some White Euro massa again.
    However , only one group has gotten blame for all our woes, and that’s folks ,who can trace their family tree, back to the Virgin Continent of Africa.
    What a sick tragedy , hmmmmm?
    Well….de optimist in yours truly , sincerely subscribe to the notion , that ‘this too shall pass, si?’
    I luv this land, Y tu?

  2. Call me a rat
    Yes, I’m among the critics of passage of both the Judges Salaries and Pensions Amendment Bill, and the Retiring Allowances (Legislative Service) Bill, and so, according to Camille Robinson-Regis, the Opposition PNM Leader in the Senate last week, that makes me “a rat”.

    ‘Mout open and ’tory jump out’
    Not very often, but occasionally, we get the opportunity to see straight through to the real, unvarnished personality and psyche of politicians and political parties. When such occasions occur, we must ensure we understand them for what they are and read them for what they portend.

  3. It was F.Scort Fitzgerald, who was quoted ad saying-“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

    Since I view myself as an intelligent bloke, let me put a fly into the ointment , re this discussion, played across Trini Center nation , by adding the following, even if I am on record for taking a very different position in my previous commentary :-I do not have a problem with the fact that our politician , and often times maligned Members of our Judiciary, are properly rewarded for their years of service,via this proposed new measure, and my reasons for so doing ,is quite simple.
    Fewer might be easily influence by outside forces, seeking favors, and better yet, hopefully, it might encourage,an even higher caliber of persons to serve, in both institutions.
    Ummmmm, well…a little bit of idealism, ain’t half bad, hmmm?
    Seriously folks, I just could never understand, how these self serving, Trini rivaling Politicians , can claim to love, and or respect, our local, & better yet, regional Caribbean Judges, when they are unable to bury their petty differences, and support efforts, that would make the CCJ, our final court of Appeal.
    Yeah we know why Kamla, and her government, really adore former Appeal Justice Carmona, and his Wife, but despised his Presidential predecessor, Professor Richards.
    We know why her Protégé Basdeo, was such a big fan of former CJ Sharma, but hated ANR Robinson so much , that he would not support his dream for a truly independent T&T, via the eradication of that anachronistic , British Privy Council, in favor of the CCJ.
    We know why Sando -Patrick, & Diego- Westmoorings Rowley lo…oops, let me quit while I am ahead, for to this day, many Trinis are still attempting to figure out ,what these two PNM Geologist love.
    “Six of one, half a dozen of the other,”would be the way, my extremely wise,late, Tobago Granny , would describe these 2 political parties, our citizens are stuck with.
    Where are the progressives?
    Long live the Republic of T&T!

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