Former senator Dr Jennifer Jones-Kernahan’s service in Parliament was not eligible for a pension, and the Ministry of Finance will have to determine if she qualifies for one given her diplomatic service and time as a minister.
Clerk of the House Jacqui Sampson-Meiguel said senators do not receive a stipend and are not eligible for pensions, “no matter how long you serve or how hard you work as a senator.”
She added that it was only recently that the law was amended and senators were allowed a gratuity at the end of their five-year appointment. But that was after Jones-Kernahan’s time.
Jones-Kernahan, a vet, was appointed a government senator by the United National Congress in 2001 and served as minister of food production and marine resources from June 2001-December 2001. She was reappointed as an opposition senator in October 2002, and again in December 2007, and served as high commissioner to Cuba from November 2010-October 2015.
When she turned 65 in October 2018, she applied for a retiring allowance from the Government, but has yet to receive get a monthly payment. Instead, she and her family were told that her case was “unique” and the matter was in the hands of lawyers for an interpretation of her combined service.
Jones-Kernahan is in the early stages of dementia and needs specialist medical treatment which she cannot afford at present. Her family has been trying to rectify her financial situation.
Sampson-Meiguel explained someone was eligible for a pension if they qualified as a legislator under the Retiring Allowances (Legislative Service) Act. It defines a legislator as anyone who served as a cabinet minister, non-cabinet minister, President of the Senate, Speaker of the House, Leader of the Opposition, or a member of the Lower House.
In addition, they have to serve for a total of five years. At five years they would receive one sixth of their earnings, which increases to two-thirds up to 18 years' service.
She said all pensions were administered and paid by the Finance Ministry, but the various agencies had the responsibility to send the pension and leave record or record of service to the ministry, which would then work out the sum, according to the law.
“It literally states what you were paid every month of your service ever as a minister in the ministry or ministries under which they served. The ministry is supposed to prepare that record and send it in to the Comptroller of Accounts at the end of their service.”
At times, there were problems with records which could cause delays. She said most of the records were on paper, many officers were involved, and the officers also kept records for public servants. The records could be misplaced, there could be an error that had to be explained and the people who kept the records might not be around any more.
“In Mrs Kernahan’s case, I suspect missing records or incompetence from someone along the way is the problem... It could be that someone at the ministry did not do her records because they didn’t believe she would have ever been eligible, not realising that subsequent service would count.”
She believed efforts should be made to have Jones-Kernahan’s matter resolved as soon as possible.
“Honestly, I think once a member has served as a legislator, including senators, all efforts should be made to expedite the payment of their pension, because, after service as a politician, you options for employment diminish.”
UNC PRO Dr Kirk Meighoo told Newsday it was unfortunate to see the hardship that the party’s member was facing.
“We have been trying to assist in resolving the matter. Indeed, there are other former ambassadors under the UNC/PP administration who are also facing similar issues and problems," he said. "We will do our best to ensure that the impartial and professional staff in the civil service will rectify the situation and that there are no unethical acts of political victimisation for these stalwarts who have served their country so well.”
Calls to the Director of Pensions’ office went unanswered.