Opposition plans to trim ex-presidents’ benefits package

The parliamentary opposition intends to use its majority to review the benefits package for former presidents, to bring it in line with what is received by other former heads of state in the region.

The Former Presidents (Benefits and other Facilities) Act of 2009 was a hot topic on the campaign trail with APNU and the AFC, in particular, questioning the exorbitant nature of the benefits that then President Bharrat Jagdeo would earn upon leaving office. The PPP/C government had objected to the matter being raised and accused the opposition parties of misrepresenting the matter to the public. The AFC estimated that Jagdeo’s pension and other benefits would cost the state $3.2M a month.

When the PPP/C administration disputed this figure, Ramjattan called on the government to undertake a computation and disclose Jagdeo’s pension and benefits but the ruling party did not comply.

Since the declaration of the November 28 polls, APNU and AFC representatives have been meeting with the intention of fashioning a framework for joint engagement in the National Assembly. Together, the parties control 33 seats in the 65-member House. In a release earlier this week, the two parties said that they had met and discussed an array of issues relating to governance and the economic well-being of the state and its citizens. Among the issues the parties spoke about was a re-examination of the president’s pension package.

The parties have contended that the benefits in the Act are unreasonable, especially for a small economy. Together with other critics, they have also argued that these benefits are excessive compared with what is offered in other countries in the region.

According to documents seen by this newspaper, the Jamaican prime minister’s pension and other benefits amount to approximately US$82,111.60 a year.

This works out to approximately US$6,842 per month. Former Jamaican prime ministers earn a taxable pension of US$54,534.44 per year ($4544.50 per month).

The former prime ministers are also entitled to a secretarial allowance of US$724.21 a month, and senior secretary allowance of US$463.50 per month. The state also pays monthly for a household helper, gardener and chauffeur at rates of US$437.35, US$218.67 and US$208.50 respectively.

Contacted yesterday, Presidential Advisor on Governance Gail Teixeira declined to comment when asked if the government would be in favour of the piece of legislation being reviewed.

She also said that the PPP/C had adequately answered a lot of the concerns that the opposition parties had raised about the issue during the campaign.

According to Section 2 of the Former Presidents (Benefits and other Facilities) Act, every person who having held the office of President and ceased to hold that office by virtue of the provisions of Article 92 of the Constitution or otherwise shall, during the remainder of his lifetime, be entitled to the following:

a.    payment in respect of the expenses incurred in the provision and use of water, electricity and telephone services at the place of residence in Guyana;

b.    services of personal and household staff including an attendant and a gardener;

c.    services of clerical and technical staff, if requested;

d.    free medical attendance and medical treatment or reimbursement of medical expenses incurred by him for the medical attendance or treatment of himself and the dependant members of his family;

e.    full-time personal security and services of the Presidential Guard Service at the place of residence;

f.    the provision of motor vehicles owned and maintained by the State;

g.    toll free road transportation in Guyana;

h.    an annual vacation allowance equivalent to the cost of two first class return airfares provided on the same  basis as that granted to serving members of the Judiciary;

i.    a tax exemption status identical to that enjoyed by a serving President.

Further, Section 3 of the Act says: The Minister may, subject to negative resolution of the National Assembly, make regulations for giving effect to the provisions of this Act.

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