Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter
RETIRED ONE-TERM members of parliament (MPs) who have served as councillors could soon receive pension benefits.
Both legislative chambers - the House of Representatives and the Senate - have passed an amendment to the Retiring Allowances (Legislative Service) Act, which will allow them to qualify for allowances which they were previously barred from.
At present, one-term MPs who have served as councillors are eligible for pensions under the Retiring Allowances (Parish Councillors) Act.
Under the Retiring Allowances (Parish Councillors) Act, councillors who served as legislators are eligible for retiring allowances if they have served for periods which, together with service as a legislator, amount in the aggregate to not less than eight years.
Retiring allowance for councillors is payable at an annual rate equivalent to two-thirds of the highest annual rate of salary to that person at any time as a councillor.
The allowance for retiring legislators is payable at an annual rate equivalent to two-thirds of the highest annual rate of salary to that person at any time as a legislator.
Councillors are paid at a lower rate than MPs.
The Retiring Allowances (Legislative Service) bill proposes a retroactive of eight years, making persons who were MPs on March 1, 2005 eligible for legislative pension.
Under the Retiring Allowances (Legislative Service) Act, persons must serve for a minimum nine years or two full terms as legislator to qualify for pension.
SOME SENATOR-MPs ALSO ELIGIBLE
Persons who serve as MP and a senator, not being the holder of a specified legislative office, for period which added together total not less than nine years, at least five of which must be as MP, are also eligible for the legislative allowances.
When signed into law by the governor general, the act will ensure that persons who served as legislators for periods which together with their service as a councillor amount in aggregate to not less than 11 years, become eligible for retiring allowances as legislators.
"At present, there are several legislators who were former councillors who have retired and are not eligible for retiring allowance as they do not have the minimum service qualifications," said Minister of Finance and Planning Dr Peter Phillips.
He added: "However, if their service as parish councillors was allowed to be treated as qualifying services, this would enable them to qualify for retiring allowance.
"I believe this corrects an anomaly which currently exists and, in many ways, serves to underscore that this Parliament not only recognises services in the House, but recognises that local government represents, indeed, a vital and indispensable element of the overall structure of governance in the country," Phillips said.
Opposition Spokesman on Finance Audley Shaw, who described the retiring allowances paid to parliamentarians and councillors as modest, said such allowance "is something that must be cause for concern".
"Even as the current situation might be inadequate, I know that there are retired parliamentarians that are out there now that, in fact, have a very, very difficult time to cope, literally existing from one day or from one week or one month to the next," Shaw said.