Is Prime Minister, Hon Dr Keith Claudius Mitchell cornered about advising the Governor-General, Dame Cécile La Grenade, of the time for the next general elections, which is a constitutional prerogative he has under normal conditions? As opposed to the forced ‘premature’ calling of the January 18, 1999 elections, due to the resignation of his Foreign Affairs’ Minister, Raphael Fletcher, from the New National Party (NNP)-government and thereby reducing the party to a minority seven seats in Parliament, Mitchell now may be forced to prolong his ‘pleasurable and burning’ intention for holding the much-anticipated elections, due to the March 2022 Glasgow Judgement on the restoration of pension-benefits for public officers and the heated reactions being generated.
Developments are indicating that Mitchell is under tremendous pressures and frustrations in determining when to ring the bell which he grandstands that he has in his pocket; as he supposedly snipped at Opposition Leader, Hon Tobias Clement, about his (Clement) political career, during the parliamentary budget debate in December 2021. Although Mitchell alerts his party-supporters at a public rally on April 24, 2022 to get ready because the elections date will be announced soon, it should not be a surprise that instead, the electorate will discover ‘bleeding and stinking’ from the bell not ringing.
The earlier circulated article, “Why Vote in Grenada’s Elections: Know Behind The Scenes (Part Four)”, points to some of the major historic seemingly intrigues which were primarily undertaken by Mitchell’s NNP-government against the constitutional entitlement of State pensions to public officers, to the resulting deep shock and awkwardness of Mitchell from Glasgow’s judgement and to the defensive and conciliatory tones which he has been vibrating afterwards on the pertinent issues. Compounding the marked political discontent, the festering socio-economic troubles, the unsettled industrial climate and the emergent consolidation of the top party in opposition, the National Democratic Congress (NDC), Mitchell has to grapple with his painful disappointment and disagreement concerning the Judgement and with the consequences and challenges which it poses. Definitely, such scenario would push Mitchell to re-calculate and re-strategize for the elections, with unprecedented and precarious moves which may also prove that the exuberances, notices and alertness bandied-about by him for a very imminent elections are nothing but just hogwash and mamaguy, unless he has solid specifics for easy victory at the polls. Recall the article, “Is a war brewing between Grenada’s Prime Minister and Supervisor of Elections?” with Mitchell saying “no one can stop you from voting”, so long as the requisites he has defined are met.
The summoning by the Prime Minister of the Committee of Social Partners for a special meeting of April 05, 2022 has been regarded as a first time for discussions on the outstanding public officers’ pensions. Take note of the staged delivery of a national address by the Prime Minister on April 26, 2022, outlining the decision of the Government not to appeal the Judgement; the predicaments for the Government in meeting the Judgement; and the need for reason, patriotism, stakeholders’ engagement, collaboration and solidarity on the Judgement. The Address also told of the establishment of a five-member broad-based advisory committee to “provide further technical advice and other general guidance”, by the end of three months, to the Government in approaching the complex implications of the Judgement. Would Mitchell really go for elections before receiving, studying and beginning to implement the “actionable recommendations” (which should also be for public consumptions) of the Pensions Solution Strategy Committee as may be referred? Is NDC satisfied with this Advisory Committee approach and is prepared to honor the Report if it forms the next Government?
Had Glasgow’s judgement been favorable to the Government, Mitchell would have forged-ahead with the imminent elections. What should be most telling is that if elections were not imminent, Mitchell would have appealed the Judgement. It is also very disingenuous for Mitchell to use his Government’s “refused to appeal” the October 2012 Court’s ruling in favour of Hermilyn Armstrong, as proof of its “first genuine signal … to do right”. The fact is that Armstrong was the entity disadvantaged, and most likely because of Armstrong’s Christian conviction and limited finances, Natural and Moral Justice was not pursued. Anyhow; Armstrong should stand to benefit from the 2022 Glasgow Ruling for public officers, at least in terms of the shortfall of the full pension-benefits, which the 2012 Price-Findlay Ruling has caused. In the spirit of ‘good-will and good-faith’ with Mitchell begging for a fresh, different and honest national conversation, he must disclose the “good enough grounds for an appeal” of Armstrong’s case.
There have been many different gestures which could conclude that Mitchell did not want the trade unions representing the public officers to pursue the pensions’ entitlement in the court, and his NNP-government may have well ready to appeal any unfavorable Judgement. Seemingly reliable report is that when the Court handed down the Judgement on March 29, 2022, the Government’s legal team gave sharp “notice to the judge that they are appealing”; but this report was dispelled as “ a contemporary misrepresentation” on March 30, 2022 by the Legal Affairs’ Minister, Hon Kindra Maturine-Stewart, expressing that the Government was “yet to discuss at Cabinet or legal level, much less to come up with a decision, on what its reaction should be on the matter”. At the Post Cabinet Press Briefing on April 05, 2022, Attorney General, Dia Forrester, summarized the Judgement and highlighted some observations and concerns including uncertainties such as the High Court “did not deal with the declaration sought in relation to distinguishing NIS (‘National Insurance Scheme’) pensions from the pre-constitution pensions legislation”. On April 26, 2022 Mitchell spoke about inconsistencies and complexities with the Judgement, such as the Special Pension Act “not considered by the High Court Judge”; and also noting that even while the Government is seeking to address some of the inconsistencies, “other aspects of the Judgment seem to create”. A Jurisprudential Analysis by a seemingly Government’s legal consultant, Dr Lawrence Joseph, seeks to identify the major imperfections with the principles, processes and precedents applied for the Judgement.
The determined thrust to constitution reforms in 2016 and 2018, with the prominent item being the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), is a key part in the debate on the pensions’ Judgement, and should not be considered to be ‘odd, irrelevant and extreme’. The proponents for the CCJ becoming the final court for Grenada, and who are resolved on the 1983 Pensions (Disqualification) Act, enacted by the People’s Revolutionary Government, may be having ‘severe heartburns’ due to the outcome of the pensions’ litigation by the public service sector workers’ trade unions and the quandary and headache of Mitchell on appealing / not appealing the Judgement. Those individuals may be of the possible thinking of Mitchell and Joseph that Justice Glasgow erred by failing to see the holistic ‘condition and culture’ of the local society. By Mitchell’s words; “While the ruling only focused on the constitutionality of certain features of the pension acts governing public sector pension, it is nevertheless creating a pension system which differs considerably from what was envisioned by both the 1983 reform and its revisions in the past 30 years”. Similarly from Joseph; “Modern society will expect judges to resolve disputes in a rational manner according to rules, principles, and standards … Rules are means to an end, which embody social objectives and policy choices … In general, judges have the responsibility of interpreting legislation in accordance with the intention of parliament, which makes the laws and to develop the common law.”
It might be also meaningful and refreshing to rehash from an article published on February 16, 2015 with the caption “No Prime Minister Mitchell, Not Again!”. Mitchell said in part in his Independence Celebration Address; “Regarding the issue of pensioners, post 1983, who have only been receiving pension since then through NIS, the Court has now moved that Government too, has to contribute. We recognize the ruling, and we will set up a committee to engage the Trade Unions in finding a compromise solution”. In responding on the flattery, the article chided Mitchell and warned public officers thus. “Dr. Mitchell, enough is enough. You have had a field day with the Public Service of Grenada for virtually two decades. Now should be reckoning time for you to ‘deliver better’, but this must not be with negative and meaningless connotations and effects. Grenadians cannot afford to go through another version of vicious cycle of deceits, which could be legitimized with Grenada acceding to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). The Pensions issue has been a trying recurring decimal, in which the parameters are constantly shifted to arrive at an answer”. The substance and intent of the article remain even over seven years on.
Previously in October 2014, the internet-circulated article “Grenada Constitution Reform: The CCJ Issue” crafted the reality thus: “No other people, than Grenadians, should know about mistrust in Government, considering the predicaments from reckless policies and reneging on promises. Public officers are especially cautioned to be aware that their constitutional pensions entitlement is in limbo (although with a balance more in their favour) but the CCJ would seal its fate in favour of the Government, with the unconstitutional Pensions Disqualification Act”. Glasgow’s judgement materializing as ‘welcome destiny’ must be cherished, but arsenals must be mustered for the next phase of the unfinished battle; whether or not the elections at any time produce a change in the Government. The point must be made that not necessarily for the pertinent trade unions, but each particular qualified and qualifying public officer (with beneficiaries / estates) must rely on constitutional provisions and be mindful of reforms; secure at least rights on sections 6 (protection from deprivation of property) and 93 (power to withhold pensions, etc.).
Glasgow’s pensions judgement does not only present a challenge for Mitchell as to whether to appeal or not to appeal it comfortably, and whether to forge ahead confidently with or to delay the ‘gearing-up’ elections; but it may present the greatest challenge to Mitchell’s character, career and legacy, as well as to his political astuteness and governance aptitude. Critical with these considerations would be the stance of Mitchell to defend and exploit his external achievements and involvements, such as the international recognition which he received in October 2018 as Finance Minister of the Year for the Caribbean, from GlobalMarkets during the annual meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in Indonesia. It has been reported (Saint Lucia Business Online) Top of Form Bottom of Form that GlobalMarkets was highly impressed by “Grenada’s economic progress under” Mitchell’s “stewardship in the past half-decade” and that with “the country to have continued to improve its fiscal position and GDP growth since the IMF programme was successfully completed in 2017 was of particular note to economists and analysts.”
In light of the distressing financial and legal parameters brought by Glasgow’s judgement, as lamented by the Government, one must indeed wonder about the refusal to appeal if there are sufficiently strong reasons and convictions. Of particular interest from Mitchell’s address thus; “Regarding the issue of the payment of the state pensions, unless we manage the process well, and set out a viable road map under which the state could meet its obligations, it can completely derail the economy, sink thousands into dire poverty, set us back many years and cripple future development plans”. How does the awareness of this bleak projection match with Mitchell’s principled posture?
Typically on facing such crossroads, Mitchell would raise patriotic sentiments and claim to take tough decisions, sometimes ‘singlehandedly / autocratically’ amid criticisms, in the best interest of the nation and not for selfish political votes. This time on the Judgement though, could be an exception with political ‘hypocrisy and expediency and cowardice’ being witnessed. Mitchell’s delivery on the 2022 Budget’s debate provides an excellent reference, when he said on responsibility with the limited resources of the Government; “… and being mindful also Mr Speaker of the consequences of the decision that we make … in my latter days of representation, I will not do anything for cheap political benefits to get a few extra votes that will hamper the long-term, medium-term and long-term benefits of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique”.
J K Roberts, Sound Public Policies Advocate