By Kwesi Isles Jan 25, 2013 –
Courtesy Demerara Waves –
The Guyana National Assembly Friday night passed an opposition bill aimed at repealing the Former Presidents Benefits and Other Facilities Act of 2009 without the support of the government.
The Former Presidents Benefits and Other Facilities Bill of 2012 was piloted by APNU MP Carl Greenidge and also proposed caps on the benefits set out under the Act. The opposition has contended that the former president’s pension, which is seven-eighths that of the sitting president and pegged at GUY$1.2M a month, is sufficient for a former president to live with the dignity commensurate with the office.
However, President Donald Ramotar is unlikely to assent to the bill having said that he would not approve of any bill which does not contain government input.
Greenidge in opening debate on the bill said the original was badly drafted and was “exceptionally generous.” His bill, he added, would remedy the deficiencies inherent in the 2009 Act.
Among the provisions of the new bill is a GUY$5,000 per month cap for water, electricity and telephone services at the former president’s residence in Guyana; no more than three household staff, a similar amount of clerical staff; full time security personal from the Presidential Guard Service with no more than two security personnel; and provision of no more than two vehicles owned and maintained by the State.
Additionally, the former president would be entitled to an annual vacation allowance equivalent to the cost of two first class return airfares .
Another clause stated that the individual would be entitled to free medical attention or reimbursement of medical expenses incurred for him/ her or his/her spouse or entitled child if the treatment are sought outside Guyana only if unavailable locally.
Controversially, the bill limits the benefit to the “natural children” of the former president and spouse and they must be below the age of 18 and the financial outlay would be no more than GUY$200,000 annually.
The new bill would also remove the tax exemptions for the former president which, under the 2009 Act, are identical to that enjoyed by a serving president. It also states that a former president would cease to be entitled to the benefits if the individual engages in “business, trade or paid employment” or is convicted.
Housing minister Irfaan Ali in an impassioned contribution to the debate described the bill as “discriminatory.”
He also decried the clause that stated that only “natural children” of the president would be able to benefit from medical care under the bill calling it a “blatant disregard” for existing child legislation. It was a point that caused APNU MP Dr. Rupert Roopnarine to call for the clause to be amended when he took the floor.
The repeal of the Act had been a major campaign plank for both the APNU and the AFC and moved finance minister Dr. Ashni Singh to point out Friday night that the elections were over so they could drop it now. The AFC’s Moses Nagamootoo in responding to Ali’s charge of the bill being discriminatory said discriminating against those who have in favour of those who did not was not a bad thing.
Attorney General Anil Nandlall contended that the bill was unconstitutional because it was seeking to deprive former presidents of property that they would have earned in contravention of the constitution but AFC’s Khemraj Ramjattan rejoined by pointing out that the constitution only provided for a pension and gratuity for former presidents and not “benefits and other facilities.”
According to him, the 2009 Act was wrong in the first place.
Nandlall also argued that the new bill if assented to would not affect the benefits of former president Bharrat Jagdeo since it could not be retrospective in nature. He accused the opposition parties of misleading their supporters during the 2011 election campaign.
Jagdeo and Prime Minister Samuel Hinds are the only two former presidents still alive.