‘There is need for equity’
• Golding reiterates call for rollback and review of compensation package for political directorate • No adjustments to pensions of former PMs following Holness’ decision to decline increase
Citing glaring inequities in the society arising from the public-sector compensation review undertaken by the Government, Mark Golding has promised that a future People’s National Party (PNP) government will evaluate the structure and take steps to bridge the gap between the haves and have-nots.
Last month’s announcement of over 200 per cent increase to the political directorate led to outcry from various quarters.
As opposition leader, Golding’s salary saw a 230 per cent increase. It will move to $20 million, effective April 1, 2022; $22.7 million, April 1, 2023; and $25.7 million with effect from April 2024.
However, Golding announced that he will only take 20 per cent of the increase and donate the rest to charity.
The prime minister’s salary would have increased from $9.16 million to $22.3 million, effective April 1, 2022; $25.2 million, effective April 1, 2023; and $28.5 million, effective April 1, 2024, representing a 214 per cent hike.
However, bowing to public pressure, Prime Minister Andrew Holness declined his salary increase.
His decision took six casualties when he instructed that the Office of the Prime Minister be removed from the Transformation Implementation Unit compensation exercise.
The PM’s salary will remain at its current level, and so will the pensions of former prime ministers and the widows of those who have passed.
“It is clear that the prime minister’s decision in respect of his own increase was a response to political pressure, a decision in which he appeared to have overlooked the impact it would have on former prime ministers and the widows, because their pension is linked to the salary of the office of the prime minister,” Golding told The Sunday Gleaner yesterday.
He said it was a wrong move “to unilaterally decide to grant such enormous increases to elected officials given the lack of equity across the public sector”, and Jamaica’s low economic standing compared to other countries.
The opposition leader said he has called for a rollback of the salaries of the political directorate, and to have the compensation reform “reviewed afresh by an independent panel of reputable persons with the necessary experience who can take into account several factors, including regional counterpart and international pay; and the need for equity in the public sector.”
“There is need for equity across the system, and when the PNP forms the Government, that review will be implemented and we will abide by its consequences,” he stated.
NO ADJUSTMENT TO PENSIONS
Holness’ directive to the Transformation Implementation Unit appears to have been implemented, as one former prime minister and one widow told The Sunday Gleaner that there was no adjustment to their May pension payment.
Former Prime Minister PJ Patterson told The Sunday Gleaner that he was in receipt of his May pension and it reflected no increases. He also stated that there has been no correspondence from the finance ministry regarding any adjustments.
It was Patterson’s administration, who, despite a deluge of criticisms, enacted and passed legislation in 2005 to tie the pensions payable to former prime ministers or their widows to the salaries of the current officeholder.
Former Prime Minister Bruce Golding declined to comment on the issue when asked by this newspaper last month; and Errald Miller, spouse of former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, was off the island and unavailable for comment. Simpson Miller is under medical care.
Carla Seaga, widow of former Prime Minister Edward Seaga, said her widow’s pension for May remained the same.
Glynne Manley, widow of former Prime Minister Michael Manley, said she was off the island and would return Sunday (today) at which time she would check. Dr Denise Eldermire-Shearer, widow of former Prime Minister Hugh Shearer, declined to comment.
Questions have been raised about the legality of the prime minister’s decision to decline the increase. Several lawyers have suggested that there is no legal basis for the action, while others believe it should be challenged in the courts.
One attorney, however, is expressing caution.
Mark-Paul Cowan, litigation partner at Nunes, Scholefield, DeLeon & Company, believes the court will likely “exercise judicial restraint in reviewing the decisions of the executive on financial and budgetary matters such as salaries for government officials.”
“Such decisions, for the most part, are non-justiciable. The utilisation of the country’s scarce resources is discretionary matters for executive and not for the courts,” Cowan told The Sunday Gleaner.
He said, however, that “Every public power or discretion will have limits. If the exercise of a power exceeds its purpose or is exercised pursuant to an improper motive, that decision may very well be reviewable by a court.
“A taxpayer seeking to challenge the increases will have to supply clear and cogent evidence that the exercise of a power does not fall within the lawful limits of the powers and privileges granted to the executive. A very wide margin of appreciation will be afforded to the decision-maker in these circumstances.”
EMBARRASSMENT TO BENEFICIARIES
One former top-ranking government official, who declined to be named, said Holness’ decision has embarrassed the beneficiaries.
“The former prime ministers or their spouses should not be brought into this debacle. It is below their dignity, and that of the Office of the Prime Minister to embroil them in this mess,” he scolded when contacted by The Sunday Gleaner.
“It is well known that five of the country’s former prime ministers were impoverished and died poor. If former PMs were to depend solely government’s pension, they would be in dire poverty now.”
He continued, “Now you have a group of people with no track record of anything much authorising for themselves a whack, and bringing the spouses and former prime ministers into disrepute. They did not ask for this, and it’s a damn shame.”