“I don’t speak, I do.” Prime Minister Mia Mottley, August 2019
Celebrated economist John Kenneth Galbraith is reported to have once written a letter to then US President John F Kennedy in which he told him that politics was not the art of the possible. It was instead, he explained, choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable. There are many Barbadians – and the May 2018 general election bears this out – who would have viewed Freundel Stuart’s eight-year leadership of the country as disastrous. It is possible that today, many of those same Barbadians – perhaps pensioners especially – might be viewing Prime Minister Mia Mottley’s 15-month tenure as increasingly unpalatable. And much of it has to do with missteps being made by Government and Miss Mottley then stepping in seemingly to save the day.
The latest example of this is the ongoing situation with respect to the abatement process inflicted on Barbadian pensioners under Section 27A (1-3) of the Pensions Regulations Cap 25. That section states: “An officer to whom this regulation applies and to whom a pension may be paid under the Act shall have that pension reduced by the amount of pension payable to him under the National Insurance and Social Security Act, (in this regulation referred to as the National Insurance Pension).”
This situation seemingly comes down to a question of interpretation and what Prime Minister Mottley, the now emasculated trade union movement and our legal brains, need to explain to the general public with respect to the differentiation between persons medically boarded and pensioners. The belief is that an invalidity benefit cannot and should not be considered a National Insurance pension under the Pensions Regulations. Abatement within the Pensions Regulations would appear to relate to elderly persons reaching National Insurance contributory pension age and who entered the public service after September 1, 1975. Perhaps, the legislation requires a second look because Government appears to be on solid legal ground as it relates to old age pensioners and the abatement process. But it should not be left up to Miss Mottley or any future prime minister’s “benevolence” as to whether Section 27A (1-3) of the Pensions Regulations is to be applied or not applied. Or whether the International Monetary Fund says that such an abatement process should or should not be applied.
But there is more in the mortar than the pestle. Last week Prime Minister Mottley told journalists that she had been upset greatly by the length of time it had taken Government to return National Insurance pensions and invalidity benefits to those entitled. She contended that people could not be unfairly disadvantaged by having their pensions slashed after years of relying on them as their main source of income. Miss Mottley reportedly gave instructions that those pensioners who were receiving both National Insurance invalidity and pension benefits from the Treasury should continue to do so. Somewhere in political heaven, Niccolò Machiavelli applauded lustily. Miss Mottley had again stepped in to save the day.
But hold on! Which permanent secretary, junior or senior member of the Cabinet, Director of Finance, director or chairman of the National Insurance Scheme, would have had the temerity to make such a drastic political decision on the pensions of Barbadians without the knowledge or instructions of the Prime Minister? Does such a public servant exist in Barbados? We doubt it.
We have had decisions made before on the increase of bus fares, followed by a public outcry, and then the intervention of Miss Mottley on behalf of school children travelling on public service vehicles. She again saved the day. Whether this is a deliberate political ploy to ingratiate herself further to a public that already adores her, or just a manifestation of rifling through the pages of The Prince, we do not know. But the very discerning might recognize the optics. It is difficult, as has been said in other quarters, to be simultaneously Superman and Lex Luthor, Spiderman and the Goblin, Batman and the Joker. One should not create a problem and then bask in praise for solving it.
We believe that Miss Mottley is a patriot and one who has the best interest of the people at heart. But no one should take the intelligence of Barbadians for granted. While Mr Stuart seemed unwilling to lead or invisible in his leadership, Miss Mottley’s propensity to micro-manage casts doubt on the level of confidence she has in the members of her Cabinet. Following assurances from Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance Ryan Straughan and Minister of Labour Colin Jordan, no progress was made on the issue of pensions after three months. We anticipate forward movement now that the Prime Minister herself has spoken. But she should take note of a Yoruban saying that grains of corn in a bottle get viewed with disdain by the hen. Miss Mottley ought to be mindful of what she feeds Barbadians.