So the Prime Minister, Dr Keith Rowley has dissolved parliament and called for general elections. On 10 August, our nations go to the polls to determine who will govern us for the next five-year period.
While the pending election should provoke excitement nationwide, at least one individual may be feeling very sour about the election date. That person would be the outgoing MP for Diego Martin Central and former Minister of Sports and Youth Affairs, Darryl Smith.
Allow me to explain why.
In the aftermath of the aborted investigation into sexual harassment allegations levelled at Smith by a former MSYA employee, questions were raised as to why he was not dismissed outright.
It was pointed out then that, although Smith’s fledgling political career was dead in the water, should he remain adrift yet afloat (as a MP) until the next general election, he would secure a guaranteed future financial blessing.
According to clause five of the Retiring Allowances (Legislative Services) Act Chapter 2:03, once Smith—or any MP for that matter—serves an aggregate of five full years as a MP, he would be eligible to receive a ‘MP pension’ at age 55. And if he had medical issues that forced him to give up his MP duties outright, then the pension would kick in immediately.
The key thing here is the ‘aggregate of five years’. Long ago, it was generally thought that once you served a second term as a MP, it entitled you to a pension. While technically this was true, it was a bit inaccurate.
Given our five-year election cycles, serving a second term in ordinary circumstances would definitely satisfy the aggregate criteria. The first three months in that second term would carry any returning MP over the five-year threshold and into the pension nirvana.
However, we have had two occasions in the past where the sitting government decided to call elections long before they were due, shortening the length of the 4th and 9th Republican Parliaments.
In both cases, the first-time MPs of those administrations who were not fortunate enough to be re-selected as candidates would have lost out on pension eligibility at that moment—like Jean Pierre.
So too would have been any of the first-timers who was re-selected and subsequently lost at the polls like Keith Sobion, although his tenure in the Senate prior to 1991 might have made him eligible otherwise. Such service must include a ministerial portfolio to count towards the ‘aggregate of five years’.
There is talk in some circles that this might have influenced the decision of then PM Kamla Persad-Bissessar in setting the election date during her term in office. By using all of the time constitutionally afforded her before calling the date, all first-time MPs in that 10th Republican Parliament (including those in the opposition) would have satisfied the eligibility requirement in that single term.
So even a former UNC darling who fell spectacularly out of favour like Stacy Roopnarine has a guaranteed MP pension to look forward to when she turns 55.
How does this affect Smith? Well, the upcoming election date is a full month shy of five years from the previous election. This means that there is no way for Smith to become eligible by his current tenure as MP.
And, even more pointedly, he is such a huge political liability that it is unlikely that he will ever be seriously considered as a PNM candidate for a general election.
With that, Smith’s gambit of keeping a low profile and biding time to pension eligibility went kaput. At 47, Smith had just over seven and a half years to go before that money would have been his, regardless of any other earnings he would be making then. Cue the world’s smallest violin playing a sad song!
If it is any consolation, Smith is not the only current PNM MP on the ‘lost pension parade’. Other current first-timers whose return bids for candidacy were unsuccessful are: Randall Mitchell, Nicole Olivierre, Edmund Dillon, Lovell Francis and Anthony Garcia. Maxie Cuffie is in the same boat, although medical concerns was his stated reason for not seeking re-election.
Nevertheless, unless the PNM leadership has a dramatic change of heart over their candidacy and can convince an extremely wary electorate to support them, Smith et al have seen their MP pension hope bubbles burst like Mavis G-string!
Editor’s Note: Because the Retiring Allowances Act defines a legislator as a elected member (MP) or unelected legislative member (Senator), it is possible that an appointment as a Senator would improve the aggregate of anyone needing help to cross the five-year threshold. But ONLY if it comes with a ministerial portfolio.
D’Abadie/O’Meara MP Ancil Antoine joined Darryl Smith and company on the unflattering list on 5 July, after he was axed following ‘insensitive and objectionable statements’ aimed at United States during his campaign launch. Click HERE for full story.