A POOR nation that hardly can support its education, health and security needs is throwing away $100,000 annually of its tax payers’ hard-earned money to fund the retirement of each of its former prime ministers and their spouses, thanks to the newly passed Prime Minister (Pension & Benefits) Act 2014.
The legislation which was silently passed by the 9th Parliament in its dying days will see former Solomon Islands Prime Ministers and their spouses living comfortably while public servants struggle to meet basic needs to feed their families, parents are finding it tough to pay for children’s school fees and retired public servants still waiting for their long service benefits after leaving the Public Services many years ago!
By passing this controversial law and giving ex-PMs and their spouses a very comfortable standard of living at the expense of the rural people and hard-working public servants sends the message that this Government and Parliament is out of touch with the common people- the little guy on the streets, the rural farmer and those needing basic government services, including children of this nation.
The legislation was withdrawn from the floor of Parliament by the Lilo-led NCRA Government in 2013, only to see it back in the dying days of the 9th Parliament and passed easily.
I find it hard to believe what this legislation is trying to achieve.
To begin with, former prime ministers only leave politics after they have been comprehensively voted out by their own voters.
That’s what happened to all former PM and this PM Pension and Benefit Act 2014 turns around and reward former PM for their failures at the hands of their voters!
After their own voters say ‘we had enough of you mate because you are not doing anything good for us’ and kick out their MP who happens to be our PM, this nation turns around and say ‘thank you mate and here’s your annual life-time $100,000 retirement benefits plus a free car, house, mobile, electricity and water, courtesy of an Act of the 9th Parliament and sponsored by the current government.
To me it says one thing: we are rewarding electoral and political failures for a handsome retirement benefits to those that happened to be our PM.
It does not matter whether they had done well as our PM or how long they have occupied the office of PM, they all get the same $100,000 pension annually till death and then the spouse receive around $40,000till their death or if they remarry.
One does not need to be an accountant to see that this is a huge financial burden on the tax payers and citizens of this country.
Each time the salary of the current PM increases, the pensions of former PM and the spouses of deceased PM also increases.
And the increases of salary of current PM usually occur around April of each year so it is very likely that the pensions of former PM and the spouses of deceased PM increase around the same time beginning in mid 2015 as the first increase under this legislation.
The $100,000 pension will quickly increase than the average worker in Solomon Islands gets in his or her working life-time!
Interestingly, the PEC sets the salary of current prime ministers by way of Parliamentary Entitlement Regulation (PER) which comes out annually around April.
Apart from the two members of the PEC, the other three are appointed by the GG on the advice of the PM.
Does this smell of potential conflict of interests?
There is no justification for spouses of former PM to receive any pension.
According to the legislation, the spouse of late Solomon Mamaloni and Bart Ulufalu will each receive at least $40,000 per year.
I might miss the point here but I often wonder why the spouse of a former PM has to receive a pension.
The argument appears that spouses of former PM has supported their partners when PM through thick and thin.
If so that is a lame and sick excuse.
What about the spouses of nurses and doctors who have to attend to domestic chores while their spouses-husband or wife- attends to the sick?
Aren’t they supporting their spouses while they attend to their callings and official responsibilities?
Unlike the spouses of PM, these spouses take public transportation every day to go to the market or drop and pick up their kids from school.
What is the difference between a former PM spouse and a police person, teacher or doctor’s spouse?
Spouses of PM enjoy a very comfortable life compared to the average Solomon Islander.
They hardly do the cooking or laundry when their partners are PM because they have domestic servants do all the domestic chores and all paid for by the tax payers of Solomon Islands.
They are supplied one government-funded car for ‘domestic or household use’ such as going to the market or drop kids at school and so on.
The decision to become a politician or become PM is a personal one; therefore, spouses must not complain and beg for a pension simply because they support their spouses.
The decision to extend to PM spouses even make this piece of legislation a must repeal one when the next government comes into office after the next general election
Former prime ministers, like former MPs, already receive some form of pensions under the Parliamentary Entitlement Regulation 2014 prescribed by the Parliamentary Entitlements Commission (PEC) in accordance with section 69B of the Constitution.
Although Parliament uses its law-making powers under section 59 of the Constitution to enact this new law, which outrageously grant former PMs and their spouse a comfy living standard, every right-minded Solomon Islander should seriously ask why Parliament had to intervene and rob the PEC of its constitutional mandate.
Is our Parliament under-performing and is looking for something to do? Or is it the view of the 9th Parliament that the PEC is not rewarding our former PM well?
Over the years the former PM pension and benefit scheme will be a huge financial burden to the tax payers and citizens of this country.
The moment we start living within our own means and stop thinking we are another oil-rich Persian Gulf country, the better for us as a nation.
We become beggars in our own so-called ‘Hapi Isles’ because of the ill-policies of our various governments – including the current government – with the unconditional and endless support by our Parliament.
The passage of this PM pension Bill into law is just a case in point.
MPs and all prime ministers should be treated like every working and employed Solomon Islander when it comes to retirement.
They should plan their own retirement by investing part of their own tax payers funded income.
But it seems to me that is not the case.
Even after leaving politics whether voluntarily or otherwise, former prime ministersstill wants us to fund their living life-styles.
Even worse for cash-strapped tax payers of this nation is that former prime ministers continue to receive part of their retirement from their graves by passing the benefits to their living spouse.
The hard-working public servant or privately employed Solomon Islander only gets his or her NPF savings for retirement.
Solomon Islands already have six former PMs that had been voted out of politics or passed away and four still are in politics.
The former PMs (including those that passed away) are Sir Peter Kenilore, Rt. Hon. Ezekiel Alebua, Sir Billy Hilly, Sir Allan Kemakeza, late Solomon Mamaloni and late Barth Ulufalu.
The current ones are Gordon Darcy Lilo, Manasseh Sogavare, Danny Philip and Snyder Rini.
By ANDREW DONIA MUAKI