– AG granted further leave to file affidavit in response
The matter for which two former Presidents have brought a legal challenge against the government over its decision to cap their unlimited benefits is set to be heard by the newly appointed acting Chief Justice, Yonette Cummings Edwards.
The matter came up for hearing before Chief Justice (Ag) Ian Chang, at the Georgetown High Court, yesterday.
According to the case filed on November 11, Former Presidents Bharrat Jagdeo and Donald Ramotar are seeking to reclaim millions of dollars in benefits and other facilities that were capped on the coming into being of the Former Presidents (Benefits and other Facilities) Act of 2015.
The Bill to cap the benefits was passed in the National Assembly, earlier this year at a time when the People’s Progressive Party/Civic, PPP/C refused to take up its seats.
However, in the legal document, the former Heads of State, are seeking a declarations by court that Benefits and other Facilities) Act No. 3 of 2015 do not retrospectively affect benefits which accrued to them under the Former President (Benefits and other Facilities) Act of 2009; an Order compelling the Minister of Finance and the Commissioner General of the Guyana Revenue Authority to provide forthwith to the Applicants the benefits conferred upon them by the Former President (Benefits and other Facilities) Act of 2009.
At the initial hearing, yesterday, attorneys representing both the former Presidents and the government were present. The legal team for the government included Attorney General (AG) and Minister of Legal Affairs Basil Williams, lawyers, Prithima Kissoon and Judy Stuart; Attorney Mursaline Bacchus appeared on behalf Jagdeo and Ramotar.
In her submission on behalf of the AG, Attorney -at -Law, Prithima Kissoon requested of the court further leave for an affidavit to be filed in response to the action. She told the court that the Attorney General wished to make certain preliminary submissions in the case, on the matter of jurisdiction.
However, the Chief Justice (Ag) declined to hear any aspect of the case. He informed the gathering that it would be senseless for him to hear part of the case, since he was set to proceed on pre-retirement leave.
He noted that the new Chief Justice would be most suited to adequately deal with the matter. Justice Chang subsequently, granted the Attorney General 21 days to file an affidavit in response to the court action.
The case was adjourned to January 28, 2016.
At a press conference, last week, Attorney General, Basil Williams announced that the former Presidents are seeking to challenge the constitutional limit placed the Former Presidents (Benefits and other Facilities) Act of 2015.
According to the Writ, Jagdeo and Ramotar are adamant that the Act of 2015 should only affect the benefits of future Presidents; does not retrospectively affect benefits which accrued to them under the Former President (Benefits and other Facilities) Act of 2009.
Ramotar demitted office on May 16, 2015 and Jagdeo on December 3, 2011. However, during the media conference, the AG noted that the issue is really whether this country could afford uncapped benefits for former Presidents which could amount to hundreds of millions of dollars annually.”
The Bill to cap the benefits was unanimously passed in the National Assembly during the time when the People’s Progressive Party/Civic refused to take up its seats.
The explanatory memorandum of the Bill says that it will repeal the Former Presidents (Benefits and Other Facilities) Act of 2009, and replace it to provide greater specificity.
The burden that the lifestyle of former President Bharrat Jagdeo placed on the Treasury was the focal point of speeches presented by those who spoke to the Bill.
Minister of Finance, Winston Jordan, was keen to note and repeat that the Act of 2009 will be repealed.
Jordan also said that the size of the economy and the ability to sustain such open-ended and uncapped benefits, were ignored when Ramotar refused to assent to a similar Bill. He said that that showed narrow self-serving interest.
Jordan made reference to the fact that over the period December 2011 to February 2014, Jagdeo racked up in excess of $45M on transportation, security and electricity bills within 27 months.
Jagdeo’s total electricity bill for the duration amounted to over $9.8M. His average monthly light bill was $365,766 at the time. For transportation, he utilised over $15.2M. The State spent over $20.3M for his security over that 27-month period, an average of $752,649 monthly.
Jordan pointed out that Jagdeo’s light bill is 8.7 times the minimum wage and his security bill is 17.6 times that wage and 1.7 times the salary of a sitting Minister of Government
Former Presidents will now be given $25,000 per month for electricity, a further $25,000 for water and another $25,000 for telephone. The new Bill states that former Presidents will be given services of personal and household staff, including a gardener but, the total number of such staffers cannot exceed three persons.
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