Opinion: Money for nothing (pensions for politicians)

POSTED: 09/14/14 11:37 PM

Now that the cat is out of the bag and we know that more than $4.2 million of taxpayers’ money will disappear into the pockets of unemployed politicians it is time to reflect on how reasonable the arrangement for these political pensions really is. The scheme is probably going to cost slightly more because our calculation does not include Minister Plenipotentiary Mathias Voges and his deputy Josianne Artsen-Fleming. On the other hand, Finance Minister Hassink and Justice Minister Dennis Richardson (whom we erroneously included in our math) is older than 60 and therefore not entitled to the pension benefits, though the total remains.

The ordinance that regulates this flow of manna from heaven says in article 2, and we quote: “The politician who has been granted dismissal and who has not reached the age of 60 at the moment of the dismissal is entitled to a payment starting on the day the dismissal becomes effective.”

There is more of course, but let us focus on this part of the article first. How do we have to understand the term “who has been granted dismissal”?

In the real world there are several options to terminate a labor contract. An employee can be fired. He leaves because his contract is up. He leaves because he does not want to do the work anymore. Or he leaves because he has found another job.

(We use the masculine form ‘he’ for readability purposes; there are of course male and female employees and politicians).

In the situation at hand, we have four ministers who are, so to speak, at the end of their contract. One, Minister Hassink, does not qualify for the benefits because he is older than 60. The ministers  have been appointed by the coalition to do a job and with the departure of the current cabinet their job is now finished. Three other ministers have been re-elected on August 29, so they stay out of this equation.

Imagine a crisis manager who enters into a 1-year contract to, say, get a business back on track. When the year is over, he leaves. That’s it. No cozy manager’s pension is awaiting him for the next year. He will have to find another job, live off his family or go on the dole.

Of the four departing ministers there is at least one – Ted Richardson – who announced beforehand that he would stay on until the elections. When the new team is in place, he will return to Curacao, where he may enjoy the benefits of St. Maarten’s over-generous political pension scheme. Total cash benefits for one unemployed minister from the current cabinet: $138,500 gross for fifteen months of doing nothing – a nice retainer of on average $9,233 per month.

With a stretch of the imagination, one could argue that the Members of Parliament who missed re-election, were fired by the electorate. In the private sector, companies would say: go away, you are not good enough.

Gracita Arrindell, Jules James, Louie Laveist and Roy Marlin did not win enough votes for re-election. Fired, off you go with a cozy political pension. Fair or outrageous?

For Louie Laveist the door to this scheme could still be slammed shut. That is because the ordinance that regulates the political pensions stipulates an exemption in article 2.2.b. A politician who has been convicted for a crime that shows that he, according to the judgment of the governor, has behaved unworthy from a national point of view is not entitled to the pension benefits.

We all know that Laveist was sentenced in 2012 on bribery charges to a 6-month conditional prison sentence, a 5,000 guilders fine and a ban from office for 3 years. Laveist is under probation until October 24, 2015. Is that unworthy enough? Taking Laveist off the pension scheme could save taxpayers almost $162,000 over the next two years.

Then there are Members of Parliament who do not return, because they did not take part in the elections. They are Leroy de Weever, Patrick Illidge, Romain Laville and Sylvia Meyers-Olivacce.

These politicians took voluntary leave of their career in Parliament. There is nothing wrong with that. The question is of course: should these people then be entitled to that generous pension scheme? We don’t think so.

Employees who walk away from a job in the private sector out of their own free will are entitled to nothing. We think that the same ought to apply to politicians who voluntarily terminate their careers. And besides: the ordinance speaks of a dismissal that “has been granted.” This seems to exclude Members of Parliament who resigned on their own initiative. Savings over the next two years for excluding these MPs from the pension scheme: four times $162,000 = $648,000.

The ordinance that regulates the political pension scheme leaves plenty of room for interpretation, so the MPs that left voluntarily and the man with a conviction to his name could have a hard time getting their hands on all that money. Will justice be served?

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