During his address at PNM’s convention today, Dr Rowley insinuated that the government was somehow responsible for the payment of the housing allowance that has attracted so much attention and disquiet. He criticized my statement that the office of the Chief Personnel Officer (CPO) was an independent one over which the government had no influence in such matters.
This is a reckless attempt by Dr Rowley to mislead the nation on the scope and ambit of the government’s legal power over this important office. The jurisdiction of the CPO is limited by law. The CPO is the head of the Personnel Department which, by section 14 of the Civil Service Act, has responsibility for the addressing remuneration, grievances and classification of offices.
The government, through the relevant Minister, has influence over the CPO in relation to these specific matters. This much is confirmed by section 15 which states that ‘in the exercise of its duties and functions under sections 14, 16, 17, 18 and 19(1), the Personnel Department shall be subject to the direction of the Minister of Finance.’
Thus, Dr Rowley’s bold rhetorical question about the government’s directive to the CPO on settling wage negotiations misses the mark completely, if not deliberately. That is not the issue here. The President is not a civil servant. This is expressly stated in the section 3 (4) (b) of the Constitution.
This means that the terms and conditions for the office of the President cannot, and is not, subject to the jurisdiction of the CPO. That is a matter for the Salaries Review Commission (SRC) which consists of a Chairman and 4 other members appointed by the President after consultation with the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition (section 140 of the Constitution).
The SRC is an independent constitutional body. It is not subject to the direction and control of any other person or entity. The CPO, by convention, functions as the Secretary to the SRC. In so doing, she is not performing a function that any Minister has control or influence over. She functions as an independent officer of the SRC. As Dr Rowley well knows, no government has any say in the operations and deliberations of the SRC.
It is in this context and in these circumstances that I condemn the foolish suggestion made by Dr Rowley that the CPO was somehow acting under the influence of the government. When the CPO wrote that letter, she was clearly functioning in her capacity as secretary to the SRC as the terms and conditions of the President cannot and do not otherwise concern her. This is so as a matter of fact and law.
Even so, the Secretary of the SRC cannot, of her own volition, make a decision on the President’s housing allowance. That is a matter for the SRC alone. The advice of the secretary is not in any way binding on the members of the SRC. The CPO is not a member of the SRC.
The SRC is the only body in law that could deal with the terms and conditions of the office of the President. It is a legal route by which the President’s allowance could have been paid. Since the government had no knowledge about this matter, perhaps the time has come for the Chairman of the SRC Mr Edwards Collier to break his silence on this matter in the public interest and provide the necessary clarification regarding its role (if any) in this matter. His silence is causing unnecessary consternation and disquiet and has the potential to bring the office of the CPO and the President into disrepute. He therefore has a duty to clear the air on this matter. It is unfortunate that Dr Rowley, in his usual rush to score cheap political points failed to properly analyse the law on this matter and misrepresented the facts.
Dr Rowely also claimed that the PNM had raised the issue of the President’s housing allowance last year at at meeting of the Public Accounts Committee. He failed to provide any specifics as to who raised it and when. These meeting are held in public and televised. No one from the media reported on it and the PNM remained silent on the matter until now.
Assuming, but not admitting that Dr Rowley’s allegation is true, why did HE remain silent on the matter for over a year? Is this his political modus operandi? It is reminiscent of him allegedly holding on to fake emails for 9 months before taking them to the Integrity Commission. Not a single utterance until today?
This is a cheap and reckless attempt by Rowley to hitch the PNM to this allowance bandwagon and play politics regardless of the consequences. If indeed, the matter was raised by the PNM and nothing was done by the government, I demand that Rowley provides the details of when this was raised and the steps he took to bring it to the attention of the nation. This will expose the true deception, PNM style.