FINANCE Minister Colm Imbert said he knew a retired judge who had a pension of $3,000 and died in poverty.
He revealed this while piloting The Miscellaneous Provisions (Tax Amnesty, Pensions, Freedom of Information, National Insurance, Central Bank and Non Profit Organisations) Bill 2019 in the House last Friday. Part of the Bill seeks to improve pensions for legislators and judges.
Debate on this Bill began yesterday in the Senate. At the sitting in the Lower House last week, Imbert said a number of retired judges live in his constituency of Diego Martin North East and he meet them from time to time.
Stressing he does not interact with sitting judges, Imbert recalled a judge with a pension of $3,000 a month. “And he could not maintain his house. I think you know who I’m talking about. Could not maintain his house and passed away in poverty.”
He said this was because of existing pension arrangements. He recalled when he became Finance Minister, a former legislator whom he said is not a member of the PNM, who approached and indicated to Imbert that in his declining years, his parliamentarians pension of less than $10,000 was insufficient to pay his medical bills.
“So that after this retiree paid his medical bills he was still in deficit because his entire pension was consumed in paying his medical bills because of existing provisions where his pension is less than $10,000.”
Imbert said there was a report that Siparia MP (and Opposition Leader) Kamla Persad-Bissessar had been giving misinformation that the Bill was intended to increase the salaries of those in Government.
“I assume she was misquoted.” He said salaries were not being increased, but retirement benefits. He added that when some people see retired legislators and judges living in poverty “people laugh at them.”
He added: “We must have a conscience and rise above the temptation to be political about everything.” Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi in his contribution said the pool of legislators and judges to benefit was very small.
He added there is a difficulty with hiring and retaining of judges and one of the real concerns is the pension. He said the media carried the story of retired chief justice Clinton Bernard who wrote a book that spoke to his state of mendicancy. “There are a few other judges that I can easily mention now. Some who have passed from this life and some who are still alive. But out of respect for their names I will not call their names. I see no difficulty in we as a society saying to our judges ‘we commend your service.’”
He said Government will not interfere with the work of the Salaries Review Commission and this Bill was not about salaries but asking for pensions to be reset every five years. “We need more judges. We need some security of tenure. And if I have to be respectfully the attorney general to take the licks to make sure the Judiciary is looked after, and if the Honourable Prime Minister has led to that decision, I am pleased to take that licks. And the Government is pleased to take that licks.” The Bill was passed in the House early Saturday morning.