Daraine Luton, Senior Staff
Attorney General Patrick Atkinson has revealed that an opinion from his office on pension reform in the public sector is faulty.
In a statement to the House of Representatives today, Atkinson said he will advise the joint select committee on pension reform, tomorrow, that the opinion should be withdrawn.
The attorney general, who took office less than six months ago, said he only became aware of the opinion after it was published in the media.
He also said his predecessor Ransford Braham was also unaware of the opinion, which was sought in July 2010.
During last week's sitting of a joint select committee on pension reform, it was revealed that the Attorney General's Department, in a legal opinion, has said proposals for pension reforms now being considered by Parliament are in breach of the workers' contract with the Government.
The Attorney General's Department advised that upon examination of the applicable legislation, proposed amendments contained in the Government's Green Paper on pension reform would be in breach of the terms of the contract of employment between the Government and its employees.
"The terms and conditions of this contract were granted at the time of their employment and are secured by legislation. Accordingly, the proposed amendments will be a breach of both the terms of the contract as well as the said legislation," the legal opinion said.
The Government's Green Paper on pension reform proposes changes to the existing pension arrangements by introducing a five per cent contribution rate, an increase in the retirement age, a change in the format used to calculate benefit to the average of the final five years' salary, and an adjustment of the benefit formula, which will cause a reduction in the pension benefits provided to such employees on retirement.
Today, Atkinson said based on legal precedence, the Government would be acting lawfully as it proceeds to implement the reform.
He argued that contracts between governments and employees are to be respected. He said a government cannot bind itself from abstaining the powers it holds for the public's interest.
In the meantime, Delroy Chuck, the Opposition Spokesman on Justice said the state of affairs that led to the attorney general's department back-pedaling on the legal opinion is regrettable.
"It is a shocking state of affairs," Chuck said.
The failure of the last administration to implement pension reform as agreed with the International Monetary Fund led to the country being unable to draw down on funding from multilateral institutions.