FINANCE Minister Colm Imbert accused Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar of once publicly lobbying for the interest of her own pen sion, but Opposition Senator Wade Mark called that insinuation reprehensible.
The Senate yesterday debated a Miscellaneous Provisions Bill to raise office-holders’ pensions and alter the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) among other things, fresh from the House of Representatives last week.
Imbert said the President’s Emoluments Act gives the head of state an option to take a lump-sum payment up front and a reduced (three-quarters) monthly pension, but when the pension is upgraded for current office-holders, those who had already taken the lump sum could not apply for the increase.
He read a new clause in the current bill that sets out a similar scenario for retired prime ministers, which has worked well, but which the Government opted to reiterate in statute.
“But I want to put in a fact. When we were hearing all this complaint about this, I was wondering who on earth were they talking about. They gave the impression they were talking about retired prime minister Mr Panday. It turns out it is retired prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar is the one they want to make sure gets 75 per cent of the revised pension.”
Opposition Senators mumbled, “That’s not true.”
Imbert continued. “I checked with the Treasury this morning. I discovered that the former prime minister exercised the option of a reduced pension and therefore when the former prime minister was making all that noise, she was talking about herself.”
The Opposition’s Taharqa Obika rose to object under standing order 46(6), which bans the imputing of improper motives, but this was disallowed by Senate President Christine Kangaloo.
Imbert said Oropouche East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal had recently had demanded to know if a retired PM would get 75 per cent of the upgraded pension, but did not inquire about judges’ pensions.
Mark, in reply, defended Persad-Bissessar.
“It is very offensive for the Minister of Finance to come in this Parliament and accuse a member of the other House of engaging in what he would want to describe as promoting her own personal agenda. I find that very repulsive, I find it very reprehensible and very unkind.”
Mark said he had found nowhere in the Commonwealth that includes 100 per cent of a housing allowance in the calculation of pensions, even as he also said this allowance is needed by current politicians to carry out their duties, but not when they leave office. Saying the Salaries Reviews Commission (SRC) report has no mention of any hefty housing allowance, Mark said, “In this bill we are putting in a housing allowance that does not exist.”
He asked who was coming to rescue ordinary citizens under daily pressure.
Mark made a plug for non-ministerial senators, who he lamented do not get pensions. Saying former senator Louise Horne had served her nation for 15 years, Mark said, “Do you know where she is now? In a home for the aged in Arima.”
On the exemption of registered Venezuelans migrants granted a year’s stay from paying National Insurance, Mark said, “A worker is a worker, and all may legally register under the National Insurance Act.”
Saying the measure lets employers exploit people by paying them less, Mark vowed to write to the International Labour Organisation to complain, and urged the Government to withdraw the bill, saying the Opposition could not support it.