THE EDITOR, Sir:
In The Gleaner of Monday, January 2, former Cabinet Secretary Dr Carlton Davis is reported to have conceded that the provisions in law which entitle retired governors general and prime ministers to the same level of pension, regardless of the time spent in the relevant office, are "loose" and reflect "a fundamental weakness that should be addressed".
This is what is likely to happen every time we take our eyes off the principle and begin to focus on the individual.
Dr Davis' observation was, of course, prompted by the potential claim from an outgoing prime minister of only two months in the absence of any minimum qualifying period of entitlement. However, I am now less concerned about Mr Holness' potential claim some 20 years hence (during which time, in any event, he could have had another opportunity to occupy the position) than I am about the current effect of this 2005 legislation on the coffers of this country.
In any event, the cards were on the table long before Mr Holness came to office, for the former governor general had been in office less than three years when he came into this largesse. Nobody, however long in office or however high his office, should be allowed from the public purse retirement benefits of 100 per cent of the remuneration of the office he once occupied.
When the issue was first raised in 2005, as a long-time supporter of the party then in power, I felt betrayed and abused that this was about to happen with some urgency, it seemed, and I could do nothing about it.
I have since been wrestling with the fact that my party could endorse such a blatantly unprincipled act whereby a prime minister and party president could import into his retirement virtually all the financial benefits of his incumbency. To add insult to injury, this so-called pension would remain tied to the salary and perquisites of his successors in office for life.
It did not help when the objections were raised that the defence proffered was that the move was merely to legalise a practice that had been in effect since 1992. Tried as I might, I just could not shake the view that the surreptitious 1992 implementation had been a ploy to set the stage for its passage into law at the "right time". As it happened, the right time turned out to be November 2005, just ahead of the retirement of the then prime minister.
Alarming fiscal burden
Since then, Jamaica, a poor nation, has had the dubious distinction of being, most likely, the only country in the world having to pay out three prime minister's salaries each year, one to the incumbent, two to retirees Seaga and Patterson, and now a fourth to Golding. In another five years, this could move to five to include Mrs Simpson Miller. Add to this, the 100 per cent payments to two former governors general and incumbent Allen and we have this alarming fiscal burden which could mushroom even further in the near future.
As the first plank of its public-service pension-review exercise, the new Government should seek to amend the legislation relating to pension benefits to both GGs and PMs to more equitably reflect what is normal for the rest of the public service and affordable by the overburdened taxpayers.
Yes, our hard-working public servants deserve to retire in comfort, but let us have some balance here.