In 1997, in the case of Irvin Mc Queen v. The Attorney General of Grenada, the Court of Appeal ruled the Pensions Disqualification Act, No.24 of 1983 unconstitutional.
The Attorney General did not appeal that ruling, so Mc Queen’s case remains the law of the land. It meant that Government knew since then, that pension restoration was a critical issue to be addressed.
Chief Justice Byron gave clear guidance in his judgment on what was necessary to fix the problem to bring any new pension regime in line with the Constitution of Grenada. Incidentally, Dr. Keith Mitchell was Prime Minister at the time.
Dr. Mitchell has been Prime Minister for 16 ½ of the 21 years since Mc Queen’s ruling, including 11 unbroken years between 1997 and 2008. Yet, his Government did absolutely nothing in relation to pension restoration. Indeed, since independence, no other individual and no other political organisation have had a greater opportunity to influence public policy in Grenada, as have Dr. Mitchell and the NNP.
Between 2008 and 2013 when the NDC was in office, it began work on pension reform and restoration. This work was of course not complete when NDC demitted office in 2013, but some of the results of that effort can still be found on the Government’s official website.
Between 2013 and 2018, the NNP Government did nothing to build on the work NDC started. That is why on the eve of the last general elections they had to scramble to sign a convenient MOU with the unions, well knowing that they did not intend to abide by it.
In the face of such abject failure, it should come as no surprise that Mitchell’s recourse is to shift blame from himself to everyone else and to attack his perceived enemies, the unions and workers, in the most ruthless manner.
After all, his tendency to mismanage and create chaos is well documented: whether it was off-shore banking scandals, briefcase Commission of Inquiry or the many other ugly public and costly scandals.
This latest conduct in his political twilight years, points to an individual who either is unaware of his responsibilities or simply does not care. The fact that his party controls all the seats in Parliament does not appear to impress on him, the enormous responsibility that rests on his shoulders in ensuring stability and good governance.
The mishandling of the pension issue so far highlights Mitchell’s inability to truly lead and to foster goodwill and mutual respect within national political and social life. While others worked to bring about an amicable resolution, he used the Parliament as a performing stage, lambasting and ridiculing union leaders who signed the MOU, in the most despicable manner.
To add insult to injury, he made good his earlier threat to dock public officers’ salaries and did so to the tune of $1.3 million. At the same time, he is talking about increasing the salaries of his Ministers, thereby also increasing their pension and gratuity. How utterly arrogant and insensitive.
Within twenty four hours of Bishop Clyde Harvey’s timely intervention in what has become a toxic atmosphere, Mitchell was again spitting fire and brimstone in an unnecessary national address the evening before the talks commenced. To many, it seemed like he is deliberately sabotaging the effort. Perhaps he is hoping to derail the whole negotiation process and in so doing, kick the can further down the road as he has done for the past 17 years.
Public officers including his supporters could not believe the ruthlessness of the Prime Minister as they were made to feel the weight of his 15 seats in their pay slips. In an effort to create further chaos and promote conflict within the unions, he bellowed that the teachers should be paid from their union’s strike fund, with intent that members would hold union leadership responsible for their reduced pay cheque.
In an effort to beat back the anger and frustration of public officers after the illegal salary deduction, he assembled his foot soldiers at the Trade Centre and elsewhere and gave them the line of march. In their blind loyalty, ordinary citizens were co-opted into a brigade ready to vilify and disrespect teachers and public officers everywhere. The same teachers in whose care their children are entrusted.
Throughout the country, ugly remarks are being made about teachers on local talk shows, all orchestrated by a so-called leader drunk on absolute power and severely disabled by a bloated ego.
The nation has entered a period of sadness and bewilderment not experienced in many years. Public confidence has been shaken in the institutions that are supposed to defend our interests, the Constitution not exempted.
The country can ill-afford the adverse economic impact and accompanying instability of a national strike affecting essential services. We therefore expect humility and leadership from our Prime Minister at this time. Instead, we have so far only gotten arrogance and bullying.
The NDC calls on Dr. Mitchell and his Government, in the interest of our people, for once to set aside aggression, arrogance, spite, and vindictiveness. Those around Dr. Mitchell, especially those past union leaders who have abandoned and betrayed the workers of Grenada, will also be well advised to provide good counsel to Mitchell at this time.
Ultimately, the workers will win. It is inevitable that they will enjoy their constitutionally protected right to pension and gratuity.
(The above reflects the views of the main opposition National Democratic Congress)