Injustice to a soldier

By Raffique Shah
December 14, 2015

Raffique ShahLast Wednesday, amidst much ceremony but little pomp, Major-General Kenrick Maharaj took his last parade as Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) and proceeded into retirement, one month short of his 56th birthday.

Brigadier Rodney Smart was named as the new CDS.

Presumably, some other adjustments were made, or will soon be made, in the upper echelons of the command structure.

At the end of the proceedings, which were presided over by Commander-in-Chief President Anthony Carmona, there may have been the customary cocktails in the Officers’ Mess, lots of laughter and banter, and everyone seemed to be happy.

But all was not what it seemed to be on the surface.

There was a man missing from the parade-Brigadier Anthony Spencer. He is, as far as I’m aware, the substantive assistant CDS, still on active duty. He may be on pre-retirement leave, preparing to ride off into the sunset a disappointed career officer, although the military ethos dictates that he says nothing, that he bears his travails like an officer and gentleman.

You see, last January, when Maharaj reached the compulsory retirement age of 55 and should have made way for Spencer to succeed him as CDS, the Government intervened, extending Maharaj’s service by one year.

The then Minister of National Security, Captain Gary Griffith, who is supposed to be versed in military affairs, Sandhurst graduate that he is, said the Government intended to enact legislation that would see the compulsory retirement ages for all personnel (47 years to 55 years, depending on rank attained) revised upwards.

He argued that sending fit, experienced soldiers and sailors into retirement so early in their lives robbed the country of their expertise from the training and experience they garnered during service.

By extending their careers to, say, age 60, they and the country would benefit.

Thing is, after making these lofty pronouncements, the Government did nothing. No bill was ever drafted, the issue was never again discussed.

When Maharaj’s extra year expired, he simply marched out of the military. The man who should have enjoyed at least one year as CDS, Spencer, was denied that honour as a consequence of politicians interfering in the armed forces in a way they ought never to have done.

If they wanted to extend the service-life of military personnel, as some countries have done, they should have allowed Maharaj to retire a year ago, promoted Spencer, and make the legislative changes afterwards.

As it stands, what they did comes across as a favour granted to Maharaj, which is unfair to the man, and a grave injustice to Spencer, who must remain a stoic soldier, grinning and bearing his burden.

All of what I have written here may seem unimportant, irrelevant to the wider population.

I argue otherwise.

First, once the country has armed forces, we must make provisions for their terms of service, and more importantly, their retirement ages and benefits. Given changing life-expectancy, more people living longer and staying relatively healthy, why should military personnel, in whom the State invests considerable sums via training, be sent on retirement, on average, by age 50?

With 26 years’ service required for pension, and that payable immediately on retirement (not at age 60 or 65), the Defence Force quite likely pays more to its pensioners than to personnel on active service. Such is the case in the USA and the UK, both of which are making major adjustments to a clearly untenable system.

A critical factor in extending their terms of active service is whatever their ages or ranks, all personnel must pass the annual fitness tests. These include age-adjusted numbers of sit-ups and press-ups in two minutes, running 1.5 miles (up to 15 minutes) and forced-marching nine miles with 25-kilo packs/weapons in two hours and ten minutes (probably extended for older troops).

There must be no compromise on this latter requirement: physical fitness is the distinguishing feature of all serving soldiers.

The second relevance of this political tampering with retirement extends to other services and public servants. Buying out the leave of senior police officers when they reach retirement age, or that of permanent secretaries, creates blockages in the system.

Persons next in line are denied promotions. Besides being unjust, such tampering may even negatively impact their retirement benefits, including pensions.

This does not mean that once trained and experienced professionals reach age 60, they be put to pasture. What can be done is retain them on contract with full remuneration, but with no enhanced pensions.

While I’m at it, when the economy recovers, we need to find creative ways to index pensions to the cost of living. Too many people who have served the country well are barely surviving on pittances.

This is an injustice that needs to be rectified.

4 thoughts on “Injustice to a soldier”

  1. Very sad I hope Spencer could survive this terrible injustice, some form of compensation is in order. I have a lot of respect for the military there is a lot of good men and women serving the nation with distinction. It is always hard after a life of service to be denied the ability to serve as head of the military at the pinnacle of your career. This is a problem in all militaries especially where there are much more people in the succession line up. Sometimes others are promoted ahead etc.

    Facing an election I guess the partnership did not want to change Kenrick because they had developed a rapport with him over the years and he was there during the SOE co-ordinating things and ensuring national stability in a time of crisis. So one can see the previous administration side. However they should have gone ahead and set the career limit to 60 years with optional retirement at 55 years (if someone is sick etc). Unfortunately again Gary Griffith departed his party and such utterance got lost. At 60 years will allow more officers to serve as commander, hopeful the Minister of National Security will take note and correct as soon as possible.

  2. Yeah Uncle Shah,and dis is what you get ,when good folks with a conscience, stand idly by and do nada ,while rogues,& vagabonds ,disguised as progressive politicians ,attempt to destroy our country,via neo tribal manauvers.
    You guys were silent as a lamb ,while self serving Kamla ,and her PP goons, raped our treasury,bastadize our Public Service ,through systemic anti Afro purges ,then squeezed in numerous unqualified bums ,and party hacks ,in efforts to acquure blind loyalty.
    Silent as a Cumuto mouse, as she and her government ,forced experience Senior Oolice Officers out,including Ag COP Philbert.
    Had no problem when she brought in a White Canadian ,to Lord over our Police Service ,then stupidly tried to micromanage him ,to which he ,unlike his successor Williams ,gave her the middle finger,then departed in a fit of rage.
    The comedians that now constitute our T&T 4th Estate ,did not see anything wrong,in having a guy acting as Commissioner for almost four years did they?In the interim,moral of the service is in the gutter,as crimes escalates.
    They saw the SRP-rization of the T&T Police service,as a fine Law enforcement strategy,and so remained silent.
    Fast forward to 2015 however,and most of you guys are suddenly getting your Jockstraps ,and Knickers in a twist, as simi trained SRPs,and the numerous closet bandits ,that seeped through the recruitment cracks ,are getting murdered due to gross negligence ,among other unmentionable reasons.
    You blokes did not have problem,when every Tom ,Dick,and Bridgelal ,was being annointed as National Security Minister,did you?
    Oh yeah,we too would show some empaty for the elite Tethron boys /gals in gangreen,in much the same way you,and that military clown Griffit did ,for our maligned Police officers.
    I agree with your sentiments ,but would add that this injustice extends also to our Police ,and Prison Service as well.
    Need I say more ?
    Two days after she swore on her Bagwas Gita ,as she became our PM , Kamla Lawyer Israel Khan son ,David ,was made Inspector of Prison ,two days after graduating from the Toronto Law School.
    Within that 4 years spand ,what seems like 80 guns were recovered in prisoners holding pens, one of which one can only speculate , was perhaps used to stage a recent,daring jail break,at the cost of innocent lives.
    There was a time ,when hardcore criminals ‘knew what time it is ,’and would not dare touch an off duty Prison Officer ,or Police.
    Today ,Prison Superintendent are being slaughtered like mangy dogs in their neighborhoods.Abusive Prison Officers are allowed to take home their duty weapons , one of which was used against one such ,by his traumatized stepdaughter.
    Where you at Commander Dillon? ‘Yeah we know ,quite busy “talking to Stakeholders,”si?
    Stay vigilent T&T!
    I love this land ,Y tu?

  3. Neal, I must have gotten more than ten calls this morning, all of them seemed to be amazed that you are back. I see that you are your old natural self again and I’m glad to see you back also.

    1. Hear, hear! (in my best afro-saxon voice).

      Welcome back, Neal. Old soldiers never die, but they sometimes go awol!


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