Edness speaks out on unfair’ pensions freeze
Senior statesman Quinton Edness has issued a scathing indictment of Government’s decision to freeze cost-of-living increases in Government employees’ pensions without freezing their own.
However, this was said not to be the case by a Ministry of Finance spokesman.
With no Opposition MPs to debate the bill beyond independent MP Terry Lister, who asked it to be held over, the Pensions (Increase) and Suspension Act 2014 went through its second reading in Parliament last Friday.
The superannuation fund, which provides pension payouts, is unsustainable, OBA MPs said in the House of Assembly.
The amendment will suspend the section of the Act that requires the Minister of Finance to increase the rates of pensions against a rise of half of one percent or more in the cost of living during a two year review period.
“If they’re freezing some Government employees’ pensions, and not others, that is totally unfair,” said Mr Edness, who held multiple ministerial portfolios during his time in Parliament.
However, a Ministry of Finance spokesman yesterday clarified that the pensions freeze does in fact apply to all current and former MPs.
The spokesman said: “The pension freeze relates to pensions paid to all retired government employees, employees of certain boards and quangos as outlined in Section 3 of the Public Service Superannuation Act, and former Ministers and Members of the Legislature, and ex-gratia allowances.”
But Mr Edness maintained that there were other ways of reducing the national deficit without targeting the senior population.
“Many retired seniors have worked all their lives in jobs with pension deductions being made, and that was a contract with the Government, who now depend on their little pensions because they’re on fixed income.
“So their rent goes up, their grocery bill goes up, their electricity bill goes up, and what are they expected to do? How are they going to make out? The seniors are the last ones you should strike because they are on fixed income,” he said.
Surprisingly, said Mr Edness, there had not been a “whisper” of any desire by Government to reduce the Island’s dependence on fossil fuels considering the recent advances in renewable energies.
“The biggest and best way is to cut energy costs.
“I do not expect Belco to recommend [that], however I did expect the Government department responsible for energy to have made recommendations by now, particularly recently on Environment Day [June 5], which came and went.
“Our energy costs are four to five times greater than they are in the United States. Every country in the Caribbean has taken steps to reduce energy costs, except Bermuda, and this is most likely because of vested interest in energy in Bermuda.
“We do not expect the Government to have a vested interest in energy, or in Belco, so they should have done something by now.”
Diesel fuel, which many Caribbean nations including Bermuda rely on, has more than tripled in price over the last ten years, while the price for renewable energy has dropped as technological advances have encouraged market support.
A deal was struck in February this year between governments, foreign companies, energy experts and financiers that has put some Caribbean islands in line for more than $1 billion of green energy loans in order to reduce energy costs, with the US government’s Overseas Private Investment Corporation (Opic), US energy giant NRG, the German government, and others set to rapidly approve projects that can be shown to increase energy efficiency or generate renewable energy.
Mr Edness said that locally, there was no excuse for not attempting to drive down the cost of energy.
“If we’re serious about saving money and reducing spending, let us look where the big dollars are spent, not the seniors.
“They’re not costing the big, millions of dollars. That is being spent on energy costs — the importation of oil — and no one is doing anything to try and reduce that cost.
“Unless we do it’s going to take this country many, many more years before it reduces our deficit and get people back to living a normal life without the pressure of not having the income of being able to live properly.”
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