Basseterre, St. Kitts, December 13, 2015 (SKNIS)—Former Minister of Tourism and International Transport and retired legislator under the Douglas Administration, Richard “Ricky” Skerritt, has come in for scathing criticism from Prime Minister Dr. the Honourable Timothy Harris for filing a legal claim against him as Minister of Finance and against the Attorney General, Honourable Vincent Byron Jr, for withholding payments of his outstanding gratuity and pension although they say he has not answered a letter sent to him asking him to clear up perceived irregularities in relation to subsistence before such monies can be settled.
Speaking in Parliament on December 11, 2015, the St. Kitts and Nevis’ Prime Minister, whittled down Skerritt’s claim to nothing but an attempt to impugn the good name of his Team Unity Government.
“Mr. Speaker, regrettably, efforts have been made to impugn the behaviour and conduct of our government regarding certain entitlements of the former MPs. The Legislators Pension Act, Cap 22.05 provides guidance on payments to former legislators,” Dr. Harris said, highlighting that all procedures in accordance with law had been followed in paying former Members of Parliament their pension and gratuity.
“We will be guided by history, law, custom and best practices and our desire to consecrate the future. However, wretched was the past administration’s approach to this matter, ours will be more enlightened,” Dr. Harris added.
Mr. Skerritt’s lawsuit, filed on Monday, December 07, 2015, with the Law Firm of Sylvester Anthony, comes 10 months after the Team Unity Government swept to power in the controversial February 16th General Elections.
Prime Minister Harris said that there is no ill-will towards Mr. Skerritt but that the appropriate investigations must be done before the payments can be made and that in Mr. Skerritt’s case certain irregularities had been found which have resulted in the delay of his payments.
“The normal and customary common sense approach in making payments is that all indebtedness to the government should be deducted (i.e. an offset is done). Clearly before an offset can be done, a search must be made of the relevant government departments – such as Inland Revenue, Customs and Excise Department, Water Department, Accountant General etc. to determine what is due to the government.
“As in the case of pensioners in the Civil Service, reference is made to the Accountant General’s Department for computation and to the Auditor-General’s Department for verification of the computation. This exercise is intended to determine whether any amounts remain outstanding to the government, for example, advances for travel overseas or any other financial obligation. These are normally set off against any pension or gratuity payable,” Dr. Harris said.
Prime Minister Harris said “We are doing everything to effect the payments but we are doing it properly and in accordance with law, custom and practice. We will not let angry remarks from those who ought to know better and therefore do better, force us to act against the public interests.”
In pointing out what he viewed as “hypocrisy and self-interested personalities who now make noise on this matter”, Dr. Harris exposed the past transgressions of the former Douglas Administration with respect to the payment of former MP’s.
“What is very disheartening is that those who are now crying victimization and malice know better. Their past actions belie their hypocritical sanctimonious empty mouthings,” he said.
He said that former MP Constance Mitcham waited ten years and had to pursue the matter not just in the High Court but also in the Court of Appeal before she could get her due entitlements. Also, reading from a letter sent to the former administration from the Right Hon. Sir Kennedy Simmonds, who is now a national hero, Dr. Harris said that Sir Kennedy waited for two and a half years before he got his due entitlements even after the intervention of CARICOM Heads and the Commonwealth Secretary-General. The case of former MP Hugh Heyliger was also cited where he only receiving his monies after one year.
Demonstrating what he considered to be a stark contrast like night and day between his administration and that of the former, Prime Minister Harris said that his administration had already paid former MP’s of Douglas’ Labour Party, including Jason Hamilton and Asim Martin and that the others who are due monies will be paid.
“This government is working diligently and will do the right thing for all the people of this country. Those who are due monies will be paid. Those who are not due will not be paid. It is an exercise that cannot be hustled. It must be done with dye care and attention,” Prime Minister Harris said.
“This Unity Government recognizes that former legislators in the past have had their pension and gratuity payments delayed for unreasonable and unconscionable periods. This Government will not engage in such behavior and reiterates that it will at all times observe the process outlined earlier in the processing of these matters,” he added.