There has deservedly been a lot of public concern about what a PPP majority Parliament approved (over the objections of the Opposition) under the ‘Former Presidents (Benefits and other Facilities) Bill 2009’, since the present Government’s reputation for use and allocation of resources generally has been anything but ‘lean and clean’.
The critics’ contention is that even though the direct pension voted on for former presidents amounts to as much as G$1.0M per month, the indirect benefits (all open ended/uncapped) when conservatively quantified amount to at least another G$2.2M., an outrageously high burden on Guyanese taxpayers, especially when compared to the $7,500 currently received by old age pensioners.
Dr. Prem Misir, the President’s loyal Press Officer, who is always willing to defend the indefensible, in his letter in the Stabroek News of November 7, purported to show that the pension and benefits to be received by President Jagdeo are in real terms no greater than those currently enjoyed by ex President Clinton of the USA, an argument which was effectively refuted by Dr. Alissa Trotz, in her letter of November 8.
I wish to make a contribution to the debate by referring not so much to the benefits but to the monetary pension and its relative value in the respective Guyana and USA socio-economic settings.
Jagdeo’s pension per year of US$60,000 (roughly equivalent to G$12.0M) is approximately 20 times the inflated figure of US$3,000 that the Government is citing as the per capita income for Guyana in 2010 (a per capita income leap from what obtained in immediately previous years owing to the Jagdeo GDP rebasing exercise).
However, the Clinton pension of US$201,000 (which moreover is taxable, unlike Jagdeo’s) for 2008 cited by Dr. Misir is less than five times the USA per capita income of US$45,230 that obtained in that year.
The above comparative figures are an indication of the gap and perhaps increasing disparities between the elite and the common man in Guyana. So much for those politicians that frequently boast of their working class credentials.
The figures also suggest that there is no real justification in also granting President Jagdeo the plethora of benefits contained in the 2009 Bill. The two exceptions might be the following :
1. “Services of clerical and technical staff, if requested”; (and)
2. “Full time personal security and services of the Presidential Guard Service at the place of residence”
The reasons for the exceptions are obvious. First, society could derive significant benefit when memoirs are written by past presidents giving hitherto unpublished information on underlying factors that informed critical decision-making.
However, it is doubtful that ex President Jagdeo would want to reveal any information that might be of use to posterity since, while in office, he has scrupulously refrained from setting up Commissions of Enquiry, passing an effective Freedom of Information Act, or promoting acts of transparency and accountability.
Second, protection of presidents after demitting office would be in order, regardless of the dictatorial nature of their rule, so as to forestall physical acts of revenge or acts of those seeking fame and notoriety.
However, the other benefits mentioned in the 2009 Bill, including utilities, household staff, medical services, motor vehicles, and travel, could very well be paid for by the President out of his monetary pension of US$60,000 per year.
Finally, the pension extravaganza should be seen in the context of the growing cancer of corruption, personal aggrandizement and regulatory capture of the State by “cronies” (who give back to the Party a percentage of the value of each concession, contract or tax waiver received) so ably described by Arif Bulkan in the Stabroek News article of 7 November entitled : The Jagdeo Presidency : A Dozen Years of Degeneracy and Decay.
An APNU-led Government of National Unity would need to quickly amend the Former Presidents (Benefits and other Facilities) Bill of 2009 when it assumes office on 29 November.
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