Attorney General, Patrick Atkinson, has withdrawn the legal advice given by his office that the pension reform efforts were in breach of public sector workers’ contract.
“I feel obligated to inform this Honourable House that until I heard this advice on the public media, I was completely unaware as to the fact that there was even a request for such an opinion in the Chambers,” Mr. Atkinson said.
The Attorney General was delivering a statement in the House of Representatives on June 19.
Mr. Atkinson pointed out that a request was first made in July 2010, and that there were letters being exchanged through November 2011 and January 2012.
“In fact, the acting Solicitor General was similarly in the dark and my immediate predecessor, as Attorney General, was also uninformed of this opinion,” Mr. Atkinson said.
On June 13, the Joint Select Committee on Pension Reform was advised by an attorney in the Attorney General’s Chambers that the proposed amendments to the pension scheme for public sector workers would be in breach of the terms of contract of employment between the Government and its employees, based on the terms and conditions which were granted at the time of their employment.
Mr. Atkinson added that as a result, and having regard to the significance and importance of the matter, he obtained a copy of the opinion, and at his own discretion instructed that there should be a review of this opinion.
“We looked at cases from other Commonwealth countries which have similar legislative pension arrangements as ours and also at our own laws. I am of the view that this opinion, which was dated June 8, should be withdrawn and I will do so upon attending the Joint Select Committee meeting on June 20,” he said.
“The precedence indicates that the relationship of government servants to the government differs from the normal contract of employment, in that a government cannot bind itself to abstain from exercising the powers it holds for the public interest. While I must concede that public servants have a legitimate expectation of a pension, in that regard they are entitled to reasonable notice and consultation before any changes are made to their arrangements,” the Attorney General argued.
Mr. Atkinson said that before any such amendments are made, there must be frank, honest, careful negotiations between the government and the relevant parties.
In his comments, Opposition Spokesperson on Justice, Delroy Chuck, said it was regrettable that an opinion that had been put together by the Attorney General’s Chambers was not circulated to the head of the Chambers over the past six or more months.
“It is a shocking state of affairs and it regrettably shows the disconnect between the political directorate, at times, and the civil servants, who are preparing policies or putting together opinions for the relevant Ministers to present to Parliament,” Mr. Chuck said.
The Attorney General, in his response, said there is no disconnect in the Chambers.
“In fact, there is a protocol which requires that matters such as these should be brought first to the attention of the Solicitor General and then to the Attorney General. This is just an aberration, something that certainly has not happened before in my five and a half months, and I don’t anticipate that it will recur,” he said.
By Latonya Linton, JIS Reporter