A draft of a bill recently passed by the House of Assembly would allow legislators to continue receiving a salary for up to three years after they are voted out of office. The benefit comes in addition to an existing retirement allowance that kicks in at age 50 for any legislator who has served at least five years. (Photo: SCREENSHOT)

During a press conference last Thursday, Premier Andrew Fahie defended a recently passed bill that would allow legislators to continue earning their salary for a year or more after they are voted out of office.

The Retiring Allowances (Legislative Service) (Amendment) Act 2021has not been Gazetted, but a draft obtained by the Beacon would give two years’ salary to former legislators who have served one term, three terms or four terms; one year’s salary to those who have served two terms; and three years’ salary to those who have served five or more full terms.

The draft bill — which currently awaits assent from the governor — doesn’t explain why legislators with two terms under their belt would receive less than those with one, and leaders have not said whether it was amended during the closed-door committee stage in the HOA.

The post-term salary would come in addition to a retirement allowance currently provided for life to any former legislator age 50 and over who has served at least five years. Under the original 1980 law, that monthly allowance is calculated as two-thirds of the maximum monthly salary paid to them while they served.

Salary too low?

In defending the bill last Thursday, the premier argued that legislators’ salary is too low.

“The basic salary for all elected officials is $36,000. That is for a junior person in government’s salary,” the premier said.

“What allows elected officials to have a little more money is when you tack on some of the al- allowances. The allowances are taxed and so is your regular salary. When you retire, you aren’t allowed to take allowances: just the salary.”

Pressed by the media to provide full salary figures for ministers, the premier said they make “roughly double” the $36,000 base salary that he mentioned.

In fact, allowances make up more of HOA members’ take-home pay than their salaries. In 2009, HOA members voted themselves a $24,000 housing allowance (which did not apply to the premier, who already had one totaling more than $45,000) and added more than $5,000 to their entertainment allowance.

These adjustments brought non-ministers’ total pre-tax income to nearly $83,000. Ministers’ was bumped up to about $111,000, with the deputy premier at $116,480 and the premier at $148,944.

Nevertheless, Mr. Fahie said that he’s seen retired legislators “worse off ” than they were before they were elected to office.

The premier also denied that the bill is about seeking a salary increase for legislators, noting that it would not cost taxpayers immediately.

Clarifying the retiring allowances, he added, was an issue that “has been outstanding for over 30 years.”

“Previous governments had the responsibility to settle this matter once and for all,” he said, referring to the issue as a “hot potato” passed from one government to the next.

Legislators suspended their usual rules in order to expedite the bill through the HOA in one sitting. HOA Public Relations Officer Linton Leonard later told the Beacon that it passed unanimously on May 6, a day when the broadcast of the proceeding started with no audio.

The Beacon’s attempts to obtain from the HOA an audio record of the bill’s passage have been unsuccessful.

Public officers

At least week’s press conference, the premier added that government plans to review compensation packages for public officers as well.

“Your government has taken up the review of the compensation packages for all our public officers,” he said. “But that is not a legislative amendment. That requires more. So together with the Deputy Governor’s Office, your current government is addressing the remuneration for public officers by making sure that we do a job reclassification as well as salary revision.”

Mr. Fahie said teachers, police officers, customs officers and others have been complaining that they’re not earning enough.

He asked that they give his government more time to solve problems that have been in the making for years.

Judges’ benefits

The HOA, he noted, also voted recently to update benefits packages for judges.“The benefits for judges is another issue that has been 40 years overdue. The judiciary has been complaining that the packages were inadequate and not sufficient to attract the desired talent in the numbers required,” he said. “This is not a salary increase, by no stretch of the imagination — because that would not be correct in this current climate.”

The premier also promised to hold press conferences every other week, and he touched on the Commission of Inquiry, the passing of other bills in the HOA, and more. Additionally, Mr. Fahie gave examples of three other “hot potato” issues that his government has addressed in the past two years. Under his administration, he said, a fast-track programme for people applying for residency and belongership was enacted, clearing a backlog of applicants.

A traffic turnaround was also put in place, and repairs to the Market Square got underway, he said.