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Should Grenada’s opposition NNP offer a statement on pension’s payment?

The ‘position and display’ of the New National Party (NNP) on the constitutional entitlement of State pensions for qualified public officers (including judges) is well-established. The central statutes surrounding the protracted controversies on the manner of payment of “pension’s benefits” to those officers are the 1958 Pensions Laws, the 1983 Pensions (Disqualification) Act and the 1985 Confirmation of Validity Act. 

A robust attack on the constitutional protection of the benefits was launched by the Herbert Blaize’s NNP-administration, with the enforcement of the 1987 Public Service Re-organisation Act to attend to an urgent need for the fiscal viability of the Government. Chief Justice Sir Vincent Floissac ruled against the ‘desperate and ignorant’ move by the Government in a Civil Appeal brought by affected officer, Galway Donovan, claiming rights on the grounds of sections 84(8) and 83(13) of the 1974 Constitution; those sections provide for the role of the Public Service Commission in the appointment and regulation (including dismissal) of public officers. The evading of the constitutional provisions regarding retiring officers was ‘exacerbated and exceeded’ with the leadership of NNP under Dr Keith Mitchell, which led to serious demoralization in the Public Service, several industrial protests, and different court cases typical of Irvin McQueen in 1997 / 1998 and Hermilyn Armstrong in 2012 and for which the rulings went against the Government with heavy cost on the State.

Review the articles, “Convoluted Article On The Pensions (Disqualification) Act” circulated in 2017 and “Was The Pensions (Disqualification) Act Necessary?” in 2019, which reacted to the legal rationales presented by Attorneys Lawrence A. Joseph and Joseph E. Layne for the ‘application and relevance’ of the 1983 Disqualification Act and 1985 Validity Act, with special reference to Justice Price Findlay’s 2012 judgement on the Hermilyn Armstrong’s case.  Armstrong who was retired from the Public Service in 2009 and paid a monthly pension by the National Insurance Scheme in accordance with the 1983 National Insurance Act and Cap. 233 (Pensions Act) of the 1990 Revised Laws of Grenada, sought redress through section 101 of the Constitution claiming rights under section 92.  Armstrong stands-out as the first to test the constitutionality of Cap. 233 with respect to section 18 which reflects the 1983 Disqualification Act; the other retired public officers were reluctant, sluggish and timid to do so, but on legal principles benefitted from the ‘limited’ Judgement.   Both of the internet-circulated commentaries, as well as the 2018 “Grenada’s Pensions Dispute Echoing Send The Fool Farther On!”, highlight the background and the intrigues concerning the struggles of public officers for pensions-benefits, due to the ‘erroneous and abusive’ exercise of Executive powers.

Keith Mitchell eventually was cornered and put in a dilemma on his resolute devotion to observe by whim and fancy, the pensions-benefits to retiring public officers, as furthermore provided for under sections 92 and 93 of the Constitution. This harsh reality for him as the Prime Minister and he already gearing-up the citizens for elections, happened with the release of the March 2022 Justice Raulston Glasgow judgement declaring for the re-instatement of the 1958 Pensions Laws, notwithstanding the 1985 Validity Act. The Judgement came because of a ‘far-reaching’ case brought by the major trade unions representing the officers and supported by some measure of pro-bono legal services, on the constitutionally correct statutes for dealing with the pensions. The Ruling was not only a hard pill to swallow but the time of its release shaken Keith and he had to go on the backfoot. The past article “Near Elections Pin Mitchell From Appealing Public Officers Pensions”, expresses that had Glasgow’s judgement been favorable to him, Mitchell would have taken credits for the pertinent advices and actions undertaken by his Administration on the ‘tough’ issue and that if elections were not imminent, he would have appealed the Judgement.  Dr. Mitchell delivered a ‘sober’ national address on 26 April 2022 outlining the decision not to appeal the Judgement and to set up a broad-based advisory committee for the Government to have actionable recommendations within three months to honor it.

Earlier in April at a political rally, Dr. Mitchell pledged that the NNP is confident that “through visionary and mature leadership and through dialogue and reasonableness” the pension issue will be fixed with a “solution that will satisfy the workers and the people of Grenada”, and he also informed that the payment is estimated to be more than one billion dollars from the Consolidated Fund.  The 26th April Address revealed an adjusted figure of $465 million to be found for the Court Ruling, with the fiscal obligation afterward to be “on average, about $120 million each year, for at least the next 37 years” without considering inflation. However; the proven track-record of Mitchell on State pensions has most likely condemned and cost his party the June 2022 elections. In fact; to win the elections the ‘new’ National Democratic Congress (NDC) capitalized and relied on the vexing issues facing public officers and campaigned on a Transformation Agenda which includes the regularization of all workers and a review of the pay and grade structure within the Public Service, as well as the return of docked salaries and the payment of pensions to public officers.

In keeping with its manifesto to “honour the Constitution and the ruling of the High Court on the payment of pensions”, a press release by the Government Information Service (GIS) on 15 November 2022 announces the successful payment by the NDC-administration of the retroactive pension and gratuity by 30 November 2022, within which the 15th of November saw the first tranche of payments made to over three hundred retirees, in the amount of $44.1 million, and with the Ministry of Finance anticipating a payout in total of $75 million to five hundred and twenty-five eligible retirees.  The ambitious and “not easy” feat by the NDC on meeting the Judgement is radically different from the ‘policy and pattern’ of the NNP, and the consequential incidents regarding the different approaches would form political debates but which must be analyzed within ‘sound’ context.  Economist Laurel T. Bain published on the Internet a document dated 23 May 2022 on “Financing the Payment of Pension and Gratuity”, and commented in The NewToday E-paper that the payment of the Court’s judgement is “a huge fiscal cost, but there could be positive outcomes that should be maximized”.  Similarly; Economist Richard W. Duncan produced “An economic analysis of the restoration of public sector employees’ pensions”, which appears in the New Today’s June 17, 2022 edition, explaining that the restoration of the 1958 Pensions Laws “presents an opportunity to right an historic wrong and at the same time usher in a transformative era for the upliftment of Grenada’s economy and society” for embracing.

Whilst the NDC may have just realized the ‘complexity and enormity’ posed by the situation which has arisen from the controversies about the manner of the payment of pensions-benefits to public officers, and has been virtually echoing the ‘sentiments and uneasiness’ of the NNP and preaching the same tune on resolving the matter, would Mitchell’s NNP embrace and cooperate with Dickon’s NDC in reforming the Constitution to effect the pensions-reforms being touted?  What are the findings of NNP’s Pension Strategy Committee on the Court Ruling established in April, as well as the various models proposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank on the issue?    

Contained on a website is the article, “1958 pension law as is, can do irreparable damage to economy”, relating the contribution of the Attorney General and Minister for Labour and Legal Affairs, Claudette Joseph, to the Government’s request of $60 million to pay the retroactive pensions in the Supplementary Appropriation Bill debated in October 2022 in the Parliament. Joseph acknowledged that “As not to do severe damage, perhaps even irreparable damage to the economy, in the long run, we must work out a pension plan going forward that is sustainable” and that without changing the current pension format, the payment “will be a really hefty sum that the IMF and everybody else has already warned is not sustainable going forward”.  Then during the Special Press Conference on November 16 about the Pension and Gratuity payment, Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell stressed, “The constitution guarantees public servants the right to a pension, but if the State does not have the money to pay the pension, then there is a constitutional right that exists on paper and not in reality”, and rehearsed that pension reform and saving the National Insurance Scheme will be about difficult decisions but have to be done nonetheless.

What have been the impressions of Dr Keith Mitchell as a former Prime Minister and Minister of Finance about the emotional expressions by the “oldest retiree”, Bernadette Theresa Jeremiah, to the current Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Dickon Mitchell on November 16, 2022, when receiving with tears of ‘joy, happiness and thankfulness’, the symbolic cheque for the outstanding substantial pensions from since 2004, as reported by the GIS. Is there any remorse about what was allowed to be developed about the pensions-benefits, especially in reflection of the misfortune of many retired officers who have died without enjoying retirement due to sickness, poverty and agony over the issue? Is there still the conviction that what was done is patriotic in the national good, and / or is consistent with global direction and conditions?  In attempting to address the pensions-issue “through legal amendments and agreements with trade unions”, was any attention given by the NNP-administration to respond to sections 46 and 47 of the 1983 NIS Act for treating Public Officers and Employees of Public Bodies as insured persons, which has been raised at least by Chief Justice Dennis Byron in the 1998 Judgement of Irvine McQueen’s case; and if not, why?

Both the NDC and the NNP are resting on the concept and intention of the 1979 – 1983 People’s Revolutionary Government for all Government workers to receive pensions-benefits from the NIS (National Insurance Scheme) and not to earn two pensions in parallel, from the contributory NIS and the non-contributory 1958 Pensions Laws!

By J K Roberts, Sound Public Policies Advocate

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