Legislators unanimously voted to repeal controversial sections of the previous bill during the last House of Assembly sitting. (Photo: SCREENSHOT)

Legislators voted Tuesday to walk back a controversial 2021 law that dramatically upped their compensation package by allowing them to continue receiving their full salary for up to four years after they leave office.

The 2021 law had drawn heavy criticism on the campaign trail earlier this year, and legislators — including Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley and now-Opposition Leader Ronnie Skelton — had promised to amend or repeal it if elected to office.

On Tuesday they followed through, passing an amendment that repeals certain provisions that led angry members of the public to dub the 2021 law the “Greedy Bill.”

Their changes, however, still permit members of the current and previous House of Assembly to keep the controversial benefits unless they submit a written request explicitly turning them down.

The ‘Greedy Bill’

The so-called “Greedy Bill” — the Retiring Allowances Legislative Service (Amendment) Bill 2021 — stipulated that lawmakers who served one or two full terms in the HOA would be paid two years’ salary upon leaving office. Those who served three or four full consecutive terms would get three years’ salary, and those who served for five or more terms would receive four years’ salary.

This new post-term salary payment came in addition to a retirement allowance already provided for life to any former legislator age 50 and over who had served at least five years.

The “Greedy Bill” also sweetened that deal. Under the original 1980 law, the monthly allowance was calculated as two-thirds of the maximum monthly salary paid to legislators while they served.

The “Greedy Bill” redefined “salary” to include allowances, which today make up the majority of many legislators’ pay.

The Gazetted draft of the law that passed this week — the Retiring Allowances Legislative Service (Amendment) Bill 2023 — left this new definition of “salary” in place, though the final version of the law has not yet been made public.

HOA debate

During the HOA debate on Tuesday, Dr. Wheatley — who was deputy premier when the “Greedy Bill” passed in 2021 — acknowledged that the controversial law was “excessive.”

“It was excessive and so we have repealed those sections,” he said. “We have given the members of the House who are eligible the opportunity to forego those benefits, which they became eligible for last House and now this House.”

He added that legal considerations required giving members of the current and former House the option to keep the controversial benefits they received under the 2021 law.

Taking them away, he said, would be problematic.

“What we’ve done here is provide individuals with the option of foregoing benefits. I have already pledged that I am satisfied with just receiving the lump sum and the reduced pension as it was before,” he stated. “I believe it’s time that we pass this bill.”

Opposition Leader Ronnie Skelton — who was not in office when the 2021 bill passed — agreed with the premier.

“It is important for us to understand that yes, we need a decent salary, but it cannot be that we’re willing to rip off the government, the treasury of the country, to support ourselves with no regard for the people on the outside who are hurting,” he said. “Things like these make us look bad.”

Opposition member Myron Walwyn — who was not in office when the 2021 bill passed — echoed Mr. Skelton’s criticisms.

If the public hadn’t cried out about the law, he added, the people of the territory would have been supporting “two governments.”

“I have a serious problem with that. [The total salaries and gratuities are] $5 million as it stands now. That could build a school,” he said. “We have got to do things differently.”

He added that the bill was “set up” to serve legislators, not the territory as a whole, and that the architects of the bill were “abusing their power.”

‘Other priorities’

Deputy Premier Lorna Smith — who wasn’t in office when the 2021 law passed — said she didn’t want to take away pension benefits of former legislators, but she also expressed serious concerns about the impact the law would have had on the treasury.

“There are other priorities that we must give our attention to,” she said. “These are difficult times for the [VI] in terms of economy, and we must be mindful of all expenditures.”