APNU Member of Parliament Carl Greenidge says that former presidents Bharrat Jagdeo and Sam Hinds would have their benefits capped once the new President’s Benefits and Other Facilities bill—recently passed by the National Assembly—becomes law.
Greenidge is challenging arguments to the contrary by Attorney General Anil Nandlall and Minister of Finance Dr Ashni Singh. Upon the passage of the bill two Fridays ago, government speakers, including Nandlall and Singh, had insisted that the legislation was an exercise in futility, since it would not affect any of the former presidents nor President Donald Ramotar whenever he demits office.
The move to repeal and replace the President’s Bene-fits and Other Facilities Act of 2009 still requires President Ramotar’s assent, which is unlikely, in order to make the new provisions for caps on benefits law.
“The view that the Act seeks to be applicable to the 2009 decision and therefore covers former presidents Jagdeo and Hinds is correct and is eminently appropriate. Although lawyers routinely eschew retroactivity – making new legislation change rules and thereby affect the rights of persons who had operated under the old rules – it is neither a sacrosanct nor God-given principle,” Greenidge said in a comment to this newspaper yesterday.
“On the question of retroactivity it needs to be said that the [new law] is not specifically aimed at [former president Bharrat Jagdeo] although he clearly used his position as president to award himself special benefits not mentioned in the Constitution,” he said.
Greenidge said that while the opposition can see virtue in a former president receiving a pension, in the light of the level of the pension no additional benefits should be provided.
“In looking at the benefits provided for under the 2009 Act we can also see some justification for some medical benefits, some security and domestic and clerical assistance. We have seen no sensible justification for these benefits being unlimited. The suggestion that this should be the case because Mr Jagdeo was such a wonderful leader is not even worth a response, if only because the legislation will not be changed for each president,” said Greenidge.
Greenidge said that in a “desperate” bid to protect Jagdeo from the effects of the repeal of the 2009 Act the Attorney General and the Minister of Finance have tried to cloud the real issues. “Under the 2009 Act Mr Jagdeo paid himself uncapped allowances and a pension which could jointly exceed that of the sitting president,” he said.
He noted that the Guyana Constitution provides for the sitting president to receive a pension and uncapped allowances and that the allowances are limited only by his judgement and the capacity of the state. “That Constitution also provides for a former president to receive a pension and superannuation. It makes no mention of, or provision for, other benefits and facilities for a former president,” he said.
“It needs to be stressed that the benefits and allowances provided by the public service and from which the benefits are derived are not automatic, they have to be approved and are governed by certain rules,” Greenidge stressed. “More specifically, allowances are not income and are subject to change including withdrawal. So the claim by the AG that these allowances are property [meaning guaranteed, quantifiable and predictable income] is utterly false,” he said.