The defenders of the Former Presidents (Benefits and Other Facilities) Act 2009 including Prime Minister Sam Hinds, Dr. Roger Luncheon, Mr. Robert Persaud and now Dr. Nanda Gopaul are having a hard time trying to convince the Guyanese taxpayer that President Bharrat Jagdeo was less than greedy in initiating and approving legislation providing for benefits that are patently overgenerous.
The best that Mr. Persaud could do was question the timing of the questions, seemingly unaware that as far back as May 2009 Prime Minister Sam Hinds was vainly defending the Act with misrepresentations.
Mr. Hinds incorrectly wrote that all Mr. Jagdeo and his spouse would have is a single vehicle owned and maintained by the State. In fact Mr. Jagdeo is entitled to an unspecified number of such vehicles with drivers. In addition, Mr. Jagdeo is also entitled to duty-free concessions for motor vehicles and every other item he chooses to import. Mr. Hinds would also wish us to believe that free medical expenses are limited to the former president and his spouse. In fact taxpayers would have to pay for the medical costs for him and the dependent members of his family, for the rest of his life. And if Mr. Jagdeo or any one of them opts for treatment abroad, no big deal – the Act places no restriction.
Dr. Luncheon and others have been saying that all the Act did was to put into law payments made to former presidents, completely forgetting that neither Burnham nor Jagan lived to become former presidents.
With a slight twist Dr. Gopaul then tries to confuse the issue by listing eight types of expenses that former presidents were entitled to but fails to state what they actually received which is the real concern over the Act. What Dr. Gopaul seems to miss is what the parliamentary opposition and civil society have been saying all along, i.e. that there are no caps to any of the facilities; no conditions for receipt of benefits and no consideration of cost.
A former president working abroad is still entitled to tax-free pensions and most if not all the benefits and facilities permitted under the Act. And even if resident, s/he is entitled to clerical and technical staff even for private consultancy work, and can run up the most outrageous utilities bill for electricity, telephone and water to be paid for by the state. As drafted, the legislation would seem to impose on the state all the costs where the former president decides to have two or more residences. And we know from the advertisements, our soon-to-be former President is actually constructing on the sprawling state-owned land he awarded himself two houses and a distinctly un-low carbon hot and cold swimming pool for which the monthly electricity bill will easily run to $600,000. We will pay for all of that.
Even while visiting friends that individual likes to travel with an entourage often consisting of five vehicles and several staff providing security. If he is unwilling or unable to give up such show of power and influence, we the taxpayers will pay for them too, including overtime late into the night.
We may take some comfort in the two services that seem to be limited in number – the gardener, though even that could be circumvented by retaining a landscaping service, and an attendant. And if the soon-to-be former president joins one of his buddies in business or enters in business in name, either on his own account or for their benefit, all the income will be tax-free. This abomination has no parallel or precedent anywhere in the world and is deserving of its own Champion of the World Award.
The menu of benefits and facilities hardly seems what the Constitution intended as payments to former presidents when it states that “A person who has held the office of President shall receive such pension or, upon the expiration of his term of office, such gratuity as may be prescribed by Parliament. Any such pension or gratuity shall be a charge on the Consolidated Fund.”
One is forced to wonder whether the attempts by Hinds, Luncheon and others to confuse the public about the contents and consequences of the Act really show their inability to defend its inherent obscenity. What one does not have to wonder about is the frightening disregard for rules and cost on the one hand, and the interest of self on the other, which are symptomatic of how the PPP/C has been managing the financial resources of the country.