THE BENEFITS TO FORMER PRESIDENTS ARE EXCESSIVE
There are many ministers who are performing functions beyond their capability; they are simply not ministerial material and ought never to have been so appointed. Similarly, with each passing day it is becoming clear that the PNCR should never again be entrusted with political power.
The latest example of this concerns the controversial advertisement that was placed by the People’s National Congress Reform criticizing the Benefits for Former Presidents Bill. It is not that the PNCR’s criticisms were without merit; rather it was the grossly disrespectful manner in which those criticisms were made and the poor timing of the ad.
Constantly in that advertisement, the PNCR referred to President Bharrat Jagdeo as simply “Jagdeo”. That is grossly disrespectful of the office of the presidency of Guyana and does no credit to the PNCR. I do NOT believe that the present Leader of the Opposition had any part in the scripting of that ad since I hardly think he would refer to President Jagdeo as simply “Jagdeo”.
The timing of the ad was also bad. The PNCR was criticizing the government over benefits to be paid to former Presidents and were accusing the government of passing the Bill to allow for extravagant benefits to be paid to Bharrat Jagdeo when he demits office in three years’ time. Yet the timing of the ad coincided with the government having to pay for the medical evacuation of the Leader of the Opposition to the United States for treatment.
Thus the PNCR found itself in a situation where at the very moment it was assailing the Bill which would allow generous benefits to the sitting President when he demits office, its leader was himself benefitting from the generosity of the government.
The PNCR however has a very valid point concerning the Bill. The Bill conferring benefits to the President is too open-ended and allows for abuse. There ought to have been greater specificity in relation to the benefits paid.
Guyana as a country needs to take care of its former Presidents. It needs to ensure that those who have served this country at the highest level have a comfortable existence after they would have left office. It is demeaning to that office and to the State of Guyana for our past Presidents not to be adequately provided for and it is best that such benefits be specified in legislation rather than be left to convention which can easily be abrogated by vindictive politicians. One recalls the viciousness of Desmond Hoyte when after the 1985 “crooked-than-barbed” towards the Leader of the Opposition.
Legislation in which benefits are specified is one way of ensuring that benefits due to a former President are not at the whim and fancy of the ruling party. When such benefits are enshrined in law and when they are specified, this serves as the best guarantee that such benefits would be enjoyed.
The same applies to the benefits for the Leader of the Opposition. Legislation has been tabled which specifies the benefits payable to the Leader of the Opposition. The more specific these benefits, the less controversy there will be.
And this is where the problem arises. There is a double standard, in that the Bill to allow for benefits to former Presidents is couched in language that allows for open-ended benefits. On the other hand the Bill to make statutory the benefits for the Leader of the Opposition is specific as to what he enjoys.
Some of the benefits proposed for former Presidents are excessive. A former President is not a State official and should not be entitled to duty free concessions which were payable to his office. He should also not enjoy 7/8 of the salary of the sitting President but should instead be paid a pension commensurate with what is paid to retired public officials which should be around 50% of the last salary enjoyed, with a clause inserted to provide for increases consistent with the rate of inflation.
The legislation that the PPP passed is repugnant on these grounds, mainly because other benefits such as personal staff and vehicles are open-ended. The former President should simply be provided with a maid allowance and a gardener allowance and this should be the expense of the State. He should also be allowed two first class plane tickets per year along with a travel allowance. Medical expenses for himself and his lawful wedded partner and children are a must. He should be allowed a chauffeur and fifty litres of fuel free per week, no more.