By TANYA SMITH-CARTWRIGHT
PLP chairman Senator Fred Mitchell yesterday heavily criticised the way in which pensioners, especially those who served in Parliament, are dealt with when it comes to receiving payments.
His comments came as the Senate read and passed the Correctional Services Amendment Bill 2020 and the Defence Amendment Bill 2020 that allows officers of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force and the Department of Correctional Services to work until they are 55, as opposed to 50; retire and return on a year-to-year basis for five years.
The pension of every subordinate correctional officer who re-engages with the Department of Correctional Services during this period shall be suspended during the re-engagement phase.
“These two bills before us are long overdue,” Senator Mitchell said. “Police officers are allowed to retire and be re-engaged and keep both their pensions and their salaries. So I wondered if this is in fact the case, why there is a policy difference between that position with police officers and that with correctional officers.”
Senator Mitchell raised the issue of the dignity of pensioners regarding the lines that they have to toe to receive their pensions, even those who served the country in high office.
“The other thing I wanted to raise about pensions is the dignity of pensioners,” Senator Mitchell said. “I raise this in particular because last time we discussed the lines at the banks and I found out that one of the reasons the banks had these long lines was because that was the date when pensions were paid. So people have to go physically to the bank for some reason and collect these pensions.
“I thought about going into the Treasury, sometime after Sir Gerald Cash, who was the Governor-General of the country who served for 10 or 11 years and I was walking into the Treasury and there was Sir Gerald Cash standing on the line. So I asked him what he was doing there and he said he had to verify to collect a pension. I thought to myself, something has to be a little wrong with that. A former Governor-General of a country standing on a line to do all this stuff.”
Senator Mitchell said since that experience and having gone through the process at the National Insurance Board himself, he was told that the system has changed somewhat to a more electronic format.
“The point I wanted to make is about people who have served in public office and both sides had signed off on a Select Committee report which indicated that there ought to be management committees of the Parliament that would be responsible, once someone has retired to deal with all these matters for people who had served either in the Senate or in the House of Assembly,” he continued.
“We had even said that the health insurance had to continue for those former members because we have found that a number of times, former members of Parliament, on both sides, have come to us while we are in office saying that they had run into issues paying for their medical expenses and they needed the direct support of the government.”
Senator Mitchell, a former minister of immigration, said Cabinet ministers “have no control over the payments out of the Treasury.”
“I can assure you no matter how much you stamp on the ground and pound on the table and promise, there is nothing you can do to move the Treasury to pay. I found this out because in the transition that takes place between administrations, from ambassadors returning home.
“When a foreign service officer returns home, there are gratuities which are due and moving expenses which are supposed to be supplied. It was extremely embarrassing for me for former ambassadors to call me, six and seven times – one time six months after the fact – waiting for the Treasury to pay the gratuity or the ambassador’s moving expense.”
He also said: “There must be a way to smoothly administer this so that when someone retires within 30 days, they get their pension payment. And, if someone comes home as an ambassador or a foreign service officer, that they get the monies which are due to them and they get them on a timely basis.
“What I never understood is that one year before your retirement date in the public service, you get a note telling you that you are going to retire at 65 and then they tell you that you have to take all of your vacation leave so that at the date of retirement you are gone. They take a year to pay you money. If they know you are going to retire a year in advance, why can’t they pay you your money a month after you retire?”