By Devon Dick
On February 8, a suggestion from Senator Robert Montague, that former public-sector workers who broke their service in order to enter representational politics should be allowed to merge both services in order to get pension benefits, was rejected in Parliament.
Nevertheless, the legislation was changed to merge the years of service as councillors with years served as members of parliament.
It seems that increasing the number of politicians who can benefit more from pensions will pose several problems. It is bad timing. The Government is engaging in pension reform for public-sector workers, which will mean either reduced benefits and/or more contribution by employees to their pensions. In such a scenario, it is symbolically an atrocious action.
Furthermore, the Government's coffers cannot afford this expenditure. As it is now, the pension benefit to government retirees is inadequate to maintain a satisfactory lifestyle for most persons. Additionally, persons sometimes have to wait up to a year before they start getting the pension. So although the amount of money for the politicians will not be much, it adds to a bad situation.
There is also a more fundamental point about whether councillors and MPs should be entitled to a pension. Councillors should not be entitled to a pension because their work should be seen as service, not a career.
It was a sad development when, in the 1990s, councillors were paid. They should have been given travel allowance and an honorarium, but not paid a salary. In addition, even MPs should not be entitled to pensions going forward because they ought not to see being a politician as a profession but as a service.
It was unfortunate that in the last general election, a candidate put as occupation a job title that was associated with him being a politician. We should avoid creating a political class and instead move towards term limits for councillors, MPs, Cabinet ministers and prime ministers.
When one is aware that one will return to the working world, it makes a big difference in terms of wanting to leave a good legacy and mindful that the legacy will affect them in their work life.
Politicians should see their time as councillors and MPs in the same light one would serve as president of a service club or as a deacon in a church.
R. Danny Williams of Life of Jamaica fame and Don Wehby of GraceKennedy fame should be the example, rather than exception for service. In other words, they were seconded from their jobs to enter politics and then returned to their jobs.
Similarly, Ossie Harding, John Junor and K.D. Knight, notable politicians, have left politics and gone back to their law practice. These should be the models used for future service as councillors, MPs and Cabinet ministers.
The only exceptions to this rule of 'no pension' should be prime ministers, ministers of finance, and ministers of national security. They manage significant and sensitive posts that should carry pensions.
Finally, there should be a committee that would determine the remuneration package, including pension, of politicians and this committee should not include persons who would benefit from the decision. It could be made up of representatives from the Church, civil society and private sector. Otherwise, politicians' pension will pose several problems.
Devon Dick is an author and Baptist pastor. Email feedback to email@example.com.