The Guyana Defence Force plays a vital role in the Government’s peacekeeping operations, military exercises and humanitarian relief missions. But beneath this patriotic ideal, lies a web of problems that are most likely, gnawing away at the quality service that could be delivered by the army as well as its overall morale.
The troubling challenges facing the Defence Force were highlighted in a report from the Presidential Commission inquiring into the conditions of veterans from the Guyana Defence Force, the Guyana People’s Militia and the Guyana National Service.
In that document, issues that were highlighted included the need for better quality soldiers as well as the unfair compensation meted out under the superannuation system for extra years served by senior officers of the military.
As it relates to the matter of better quality soldiers, it was noted that the salaries (and particularly allowances) of other ranks need to be raised significantly, both to attract a better quality of recruit to what should be a small, versatile and robust force, that can defend the territorial integrity of Guyana; and who can also be a credit to the GDF and the country on their return to civilian life.
The Commission in this regard, believes that higher salaries will impact superannuated pensions which are now woefully low for soldiers who have to retire at younger ages than other public servants.
As for superannuation Disparities, the Commission said that since most very senior officers enter the military at age 18, they would have served, approaching retirement, for between 36 and 37 years – well over the 33 years and four months that is the maximum calculable period under the public service rules.
The Commission said that this anomaly will have major impact on the gratuity and pension received, since the highest promotion might have fallen during those three years, denying the new pensioner significantly higher gratuity and pension, through no fault of his/her own. It said that retroactive remedial action seems necessary. The Commission said that it may even be useful to delink the Army from the civil service superannuation system and establish its own regulations, responsive and catering to the uniqueness of military service.
The proposed review of Public Service pensionable ages might resolve this issue, the Commission said.
BETTER QUALITY SOLDIERS
In order to produce a worthy veteran, the Commission pointed out that the military forces should recruit its best possible quality of recruit at both the officer and other ranks levels.
The Commission said that the dilemma small, poor countries face is making their armed forces play an optimum role without consuming too high a percentage of the national budget.
“Guyana faces unique challenges being a comparatively large country, with a small population and not occupying land areas that are being claimed by potentially militarily aggressive neighbours. Military conscription would not be a popular option in Guyana’s ethnically charged political environment, so other incentives might have to be employed to recruit the best possible soldier to satisfy the country’s security needs…”
“It was widely acknowledged that there was need for a higher quality of basic soldier, who it is felt must be able to pass the National Grade Six Assessment Examination (which replaced the Secondary School Entrance Examination (SSEE, also known as the `Common Entrance’) test on entry; and be elevated to the level of passing three (3) Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) subjects before s/he becomes a senior Non-Commissioned Officer.”
“If it is accepted that this is a requirement for all the positions in this small army, then there should be more incentives to attract this civilian, while noting the general dearth of adequate preparation of graduates from secondary schools.”
The Commission also pointed out that during its inquiry, there was mixed feeling about making base level remuneration more attractive than that of those employed in private and public sector organizations. The claims are that higher pay will not necessarily attract the better recruit; and that, on net, soldiers, who have the benefits of free food, work clothing and housing, are higher net earners than their civilian counterparts.
Furthermore, the Commission recommended that the Guyana Defence Force undertake a study, in collaboration with the University of Guyana perhaps, to establish optimum marketing and financial policies aimed at recruiting better qualified soldiers and officers to the Force.
PENSIONS AND BENEFITS
The Commission during its interviews found that there were concerns among soldiers regarding the Superannuation system.
The Commission said that GDF pensions and gratuities’ calculations are based on a 33 years and four months of pensionable and calculable service as awarded in the public service. However, since officers can be recruited at 18 years of age, they would have served for 36 or 37 years when they would have retired as very senior officers. However, their benefits are only calculated on the standard, lower number of maximum years. The Commission pointed out that this results in a severely reduced amount of pension and gratuity.
The Commission also highlighted that there are concerns regarding the inadequacy of pensions.
“Since junior ranks can retire from between 37 and 40 years of age and since there was severe inflation in salaries during the period 1986 and the present time, some of the older veterans are drawing army and NIS pensions that are inadequate to provide them with one meal per day.”
“They are requesting pensions closer to the ones being given to current retirees. This special circumstance was presented to an NIS manager who promised to have the anomaly considered in the current actuarial studies being undertaken by the NIS.”
The Commission pointed out that some legislative action was requested to provide relief for veterans who might have retired before the major currency devaluation. In any event, it said that a ‘living pension’ is also needed for the military veteran who retired 10-15 years before his civilian counterpart.
(To be continued)
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