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Politicans try to score points as accusations fly from court to court

Politicans try to score points as accusations fly from court to court

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Controversy has once again erupted over pensions and gratuity for Parliamentarians.

Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace and other members of the Opposition on Tuesday refused to attend a local branch meeting of the Commonwealth Parliamentarian Association (CPA) at the House of Assembly which was called to discuss pensions, gratuities and health insurance, among other things, for Parliamentarians.{{more}}

Interestingly, 10 years ago, the passage of a bill by the New Democratic Party (NDP) administration, to give elected Parliamentarians increased pension and gratuity payments and make Senators eligible for similar first-time payments created problems for that government.

The controversial bill, dubbed the ‘Greedy Bill’, was the key factor that drove the then Opposition Unity Labour Party (ULP) (now incumbent), backed by the Organisation in Defense of Democracy, trade unions, truckers, and mini-bus operators, to stage a massive protest which helped topple the James Mitchell/Arnhim Eustace led government in April 2000.

In a letter sent to Nicole Herbert, Secretary General of the local branch of the CPA on Tuesday, Eustace stated that he and his colleagues had declined to participate in the discussion because on the meeting’s agenda stood the issue of pension, gratuity and health insurance for Parliamentarians.

“The other members of the Opposition and I are of the view that it is extremely insensitive, uncaring and abhorrent to discuss these issues at this time, when the economy and the financial situation of the government is in a tailspin.

“Numerous Vincentians are at this time unable to collect monies owed to them for goods and services which they provided to the government. Many public officers are unable to collect their allowances. Calls cannot be made from many government phones. And, we have had the embarrassment of the suspension of the supply of drugs to our hospital by the Pharmaceutical Procurement Services because of non-payment,” Eustace declared.

Eustace further stated that many Vincentians are unable to finance even their most basic needs and the government had presented to Parliament a budget with a recurrent cash deficit of $108 million.

Instead of attending the meeting, the Opposition Leader on Tuesday chose to speak on the NDP’s New Times radio programme at about the same time the meeting of the local branch of the CPA was scheduled to take place.

Prime Minister Dr.Ralph Gonsalves was quick to respond to Eustace’s stance on his ‘Ralph On Star: Conversations With the Comrade’ radio call-in show on Tuesday night, calling it a smoke screen.

“It’s a smoke screen, straight opportunism on the part of Arnhim Eustace, who is the man that had brought the Greedy Bill,” Gonsalves retorted.

He told the nation that Hendrick Alexander, Speaker of the House of Assembly and President of the local branch of the CPA, had put the item of enhancement of pensions for Parliamentarians on the agenda as a result of statements made in the House by Senator St.Clair Leacock of the NDP advocating that senators should get pension and

gratuity.

“I was making the point well we have to be careful about that and how we go about that. I don’t support it, but because a Parliamentarian raised it, the Speaker put it on the agenda for discussion with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association local branch,” Gonsalves stated.

The prime minister however explained that he would like to see a contributory health scheme put in place where both Parliamentarians and the Government share the cost.

“We are handling stressful jobs and if you get sick and you have to go and take medical attention which can’t be provided here for free, you have to have a lot of money. So you can help to prepare yourself by having a contributory health plan,” Gonsalves said.

“This government is not supporting any increase in any pensions or gratuity for Parliamentarians. The Speaker put items on the agenda because somebody in the House, an NDP man, raised the issue and that is all that is about,” Gonsalves stressed.

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