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Raffique Shah


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Heartless Parliamentarians

By Raffique Shah
June 22, 2014

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, are heartless!

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