Injustice to a soldier: Shah’s tribute to Brigadier that PP Gov’t overlooked

Last Wednesday, amidst much ceremony but little pomp, Major-General Kenrick Maharaj took his last parade as Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) and proceeded into retirement, one month short of his 56th birthday.

Photo: Former National Security Minister John Sandy (second from left) greets Chief of Defence Staff Major-General Kenrick Maharaj (left) while Brigadier Anthony Spencer (second from right) looks on. (Courtesy
Photo: Former National Security Minister John Sandy (second from left) greets Chief of Defence Staff Major-General Kenrick Maharaj (left) while Brigadier Anthony Phillips-Spencer (second from right) looks on.

Brigadier Rodney Smart was named as the new CDS.

Presumably, some other adjustments were made, or will soon be made, in the upper echelons of the command structure.

At the end of the proceedings, which were presided over by Commander-in-Chief President Anthony Carmona, there may have been the customary cocktails in the Officers’ Mess, lots of laughter and banter, and everyone seemed to be happy.

But all was not what it seemed to be on the surface.

There was a man missing from the parade—Brigadier Anthony Phillips-Spencer.

He is, as far as I’m aware, the substantive assistant CDS, still on active duty. He may be on pre-retirement leave, preparing to ride off into the sunset a disappointed career officer, although the military ethos dictates that he says nothing, that he bears his travails like an officer and gentleman.

Photo: Defence Force Brigadier Anthony Spencer (left).
Photo: Defence Force Brigadier Anthony Phillips-Spencer (left).

You see, last January, when Maharaj reached the compulsory retirement age of 55 and should have made way for Phillips-Spencer to succeed him as CDS, the Government intervened, extending Maharaj’s service by one year.

The then Minister of National Security, Captain Gary Griffith, who is supposed to be versed in military affairs, Sandhurst graduate that he is, said the Government intended to enact legislation that would see the compulsory retirement ages for all personnel (47 years to 55 years, depending on rank attained) revised upwards.

He argued that sending fit, experienced soldiers and sailors into retirement so early in their lives robbed the country of their expertise from the training and experience they garnered during service.

By extending their careers to, say, age 60, they and the country would benefit.

Thing is, after making these lofty pronouncements, the Government did nothing. No bill was ever drafted, the issue was never again discussed.

Photo: Major General Kenrick Maharaj (foreground) stands alongside then prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar (second from right), China president Xi Jinxing (left) and Trinidad and Tobago president Anthony Carmona (right). (Courtesy
Photo: Major General Kenrick Maharaj (foreground) stands alongside then prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar (second from right), China president Xi Jinxing (left) and Trinidad and Tobago president Anthony Carmona (right).

When Maharaj’s extra year expired, he simply marched out of the military. The man who should have enjoyed at least one year as CDS, Phillips-Spencer, was denied that honour as a consequence of politicians interfering in the armed forces in a way they ought never to have done.

If they wanted to extend the service-life of military personnel, as some countries have done, they should have allowed Maharaj to retire a year ago, promoted Phillips-Spencer, and make the legislative changes afterwards.

As it stands, what they did comes across as a favour granted to Maharaj, which is unfair to the man, and a grave injustice to Phillips-Spencer, who must remain a stoic soldier, grinning and bearing his burden.

All of what I have written here may seem unimportant, irrelevant to the wider population.

I argue otherwise.

First, once the country has armed forces, we must make provisions for their terms of service, and more importantly, their retirement ages and benefits. Given changing life-expectancy, more people living longer and staying relatively healthy, why should military personnel, in whom the State invests considerable sums via training, be sent on retirement, on average, by age 50?

Photo: Former National Security Minister Gary Griffith.
Photo: Former National Security Minister Gary Griffith.

With 26 years’ service required for pension, and that payable immediately on retirement (not at age 60 or 65), the Defence Force quite likely pays more to its pensioners than to personnel on active service. Such is the case in the USA and the UK, both of which are making major adjustments to a clearly untenable system.

A critical factor in extending their terms of active service is whatever their ages or ranks, all personnel must pass the annual fitness tests. These include age-adjusted numbers of sit-ups and press-ups in two minutes, running 1.5 miles (up to 15 minutes) and forced-marching nine miles with 25-kilo packs/weapons in two hours and ten minutes (probably extended for older troops).

There must be no compromise on this latter requirement: physical fitness is the distinguishing feature of all serving soldiers.

The second relevance of this political tampering with retirement extends to other services and public servants. Buying out the leave of senior police officers when they reach retirement age, or that of permanent secretaries, creates blockages in the system.

Persons next in line are denied promotions. Besides being unjust, such tampering may even negatively impact their retirement benefits, including pensions.

Photo: Brigadier Anthony Spencer. (Courtesy YouTube)
Photo: Brigadier Anthony Phillips-Spencer.
(Courtesy YouTube)

This does not mean that once trained and experienced professionals reach age 60, they be put to pasture. What can be done is retain them on contract with full remuneration, but with no enhanced pensions.

While I’m at it, when the economy recovers, we need to find creative ways to index pensions to the cost of living. Too many people who have served the country well are barely surviving on pittances.

This is an injustice that needs to be rectified.

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About Raffique Shah

Raffique Shah
Raffique Shah is a columnist for over three decades, founder of the T&T International Marathon, co-founder of the ULF with Basdeo Panday and George Weekes, a former sugar cane farmers union leader and an ex-Siparia MP. He trained at the UK’s Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and was arrested, court-martialled, sentenced and eventually freed on appeal after leading 300 troops in a mutiny at Teteron Barracks during the Black Power revolution of 1970.

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    I always wondered what happen to him. Thank you for this article

  2. Maybe Anthony Spencer was not a Bumsee Duster!! all this decoration for our CDS Officers and dem bad boys in 3/4 pants and rubber slippers have the nation under manners…tax payers money going down the drain literally!.

  3. I commend everyone for skillfully avoiding the elephant in the room…so I shall bear the burden for posterity’s sake…. RACE is the reason Maharaj was extended (and some say installed)…..NOTHING ELSE…which is why no move was made to actually do what they said the extension was for….Madame Gallery simply felt safer with “one of our sons” at the helm….

  4. His father was a true soldier also smh

  5. The Defence Act allows for political influence in the Defence Force, and politicians have been ‘playing’ with the TTDF for a long time. Politicians have promoted persons in the TTDF for their own political benefit as as times they wanted loyal puppets to do their bidding. This is not a PP issue, it is a political one.
    The PNM has done it from 1962 to present, with the exception of brief periods when they weren’t in power.

    The PP continued the interference. There was no proper reason given to keep Maharaj on except on policy grounds. Brig Gen Phillips-Spencer is an excellent Officer who came from the Cadets then moved up. He has served the Country well locally and abroad. He is intelligent, sober thinking, and while committed to the TTDF, will not be a puppet for anyone’s dirty tricks. Perhaps it was his integrity that disqualified him – not that others are without it, but from the onset, anyone who worked with him will tel you that he was a decent, no-nonsense person.

  6. The brutal PP broke Maundy’s heart to put Maharaj. Maundy died soon after from a heart attack.

  7. Sad to say that he didn’t get the chance but many of the non commission officers suffer this same fate but who cares they are just their to make the upper echelons look good. Good Army day eh

  8. I worked closely with Brigadier Anthony Spencer for many years. He is an amazing soldier, human being and a much undervalued asset to T&T.

  9. Bakes

    Left unexplained by the article is why Spencer cannot now be elevated into the position of CDS. Is it because he too is near or beyond the compulsory retirement age of 55? Good article, and yes, the wider populace may not care (that much) about all of this but for those of us who may not have served, but who nonetheless appreciate the sacrifices of those who have, thank you for shedding light, and providing great analysis of the issue.

    Great point also, about the way the issue ties into civil service on the whole, the ‘brain drain’ caused by the forced early retirement, and the additional costs to the Treasury as a result. I was shocked and disappointed several years ago when I returned to my alma mater, Holy Cross, only to find that several of my favorite teachers were forced to retire on account of ‘aging out.’ I was under the impression that the mandatory age was 60, but perhaps I got that wrong. Even then, I considered what a loss it was to the system to force these educators out, but hadn’t considered the financial cost as well. Very good article… but no surprise there.

  10. Sadly Patrick, they didn’t…. It was a stated policy of the PNM (as espoused on the election hustings) that they will not buy out leave of anybody to keep them in office. The Brig has proceeded on pre-retirement leave. The series of unfortunate events that culminated in this situation is the PP government extending the time of the outgoing CDS Maj Gen Maharaj past his mandatory retirement date (as identified in the above article).

  11. Raf,
    I have known Rodney Smart since he was a boy in short pants but I do not know Brigadier Spencerat all except as a public personality. I do not think I need to. I do not think you are dealing with the personalities but with the principle and in my view you are on very solid ground. Of course, Gary “MotorMouth” Griffith may well disagree with you publicly while declining to explain why the government of which he was a part failed to carry through with what was after all a very worthwhile initiative.
    I see more than a reference to last week’s ceremony in your early warning that “all was not what it seemed to be on the surface.” What was wrong with these PP people, Raf? Were there really NO sacred cows? Not one?

  12. Seems as though the PNM government has also overlooked him.

  13. It was indeed a grave injustice to Brig. Spencer, a dedicated, exceptional and very humble soldier.

  14. i don’t know you but from one Soldier to another i truly admire the respect shown and from me to you i am proud of your accomplishment and i am also saying thanks on behalf of the nation , you’re serving our nation proud daily salute my Brother in arms Solute……!!!!!

  15. Look at these fellas with chests covered with medals and ribbons.They must have slain thousands in battle and may have engaged the enemy in hundreds of brutal encounters with the foe .But where and when ?

    • Lol. Be nice Melville. Remember the battle of the Red House in 1990…

    • The medals and ribbons represent participation in various military and civilian activities such as training courses or international events. As an example, a medal was awarded to members of the defence force for their role in the 1990 coup, medals were awarded to military personnel who played a role in this country’s hosting of SOA and CHOGM. Participation in commando, sniper, and combat courses (among others) also comes with ribbons/medals for attendees!!

    • People watch american and other military men and think that they were awarded their medals only for dreadful wars. How wrong…

  16. Phillip Spencer is a great soldier, exceptionally intelligent and great at modelling and motivating others. That is a soldier worth his weight in gold

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