A former president should never serve in any official capacity to a sitting president

Dear Editor,

I have already commented that a constitutionally barred former president serving in Cabinet is an affront to democracy and abuse of the office of the presidency. I have warned that the integrity of the office of the presidency is in question if a former president serves in any official consulting or advisory role or capacity to the sitting president. The integrity of the constitution, voters’ political expression and the presidency are tarnished when the ex-president returns to executive authority after he has been constitutionally barred from it, particularly if that return is under a former protégé or someone who served under him in government or was his subordinate in his political party.

The question that has not been addressed is whether a former president should be barred from accessing and enjoying the benefits of the Former Presidents (Benefits and Other Facilities) Act No. 12 if he serves in any official capacity to government or to a sitting president. Service would cover any provision of service in any capacity including consulting or advising where the former president actively advises the sitting president or any member of government, whether for remuneration or not. It would cover the scenario envisioned by Donald Ramotar who states that President Jagdeo may have a role in his team if he wins the presidency.

A thorough reading of the act conveys it was crafted and intended for a former president who is removed from and no longer participates in government. The act appears to have been written to reward the president who has to leave office due to constitutional term limits. If a former president decides to challenge the integrity of the constitution and the office of the presidency by remaining connected to a sitting government, there is no way he should enjoy these retirement benefits until he is removed from connection to government in any official capacity.

It would be an absurdity for a former president to work for a sitting president and still collect these benefits. A tax exempt status cannot apply to a former president who is ‘working.’ If the current president picked the former president as an unpaid advisor or consultant then any citizen should be able to apply to the presidency for appointment as an unpaid advisor and consultant. For example, if Christopher Ram and Clive Thomas applied as unpaid advisors and consultants and were rejected while a former President was accepted, they could claim discrimination in hiring by the presidency. The former president serving as the only unpaid consultant to the sitting president would raise serious questions of constitutional validity and there would be rumblings about collusion and the independence of the office of the presidency. I would suspect that if this happened, constitutional scholars would attempt to challenge the presidency on grounds that there was gross misconduct.

This act is exactly the kind of legislation a devious government may write to attempt to maintain power which is denied by constitutional term limits through subterfuge. How would it work? Before attempting to subvert the constitution, the sitting government would pass legislation that ensured the former president got all the perks a sitting president got, such as a full pension and a fully stocked benefits plan. So, nothing would really change. It would be as if the former and current president were collecting the same pay and getting the same benefits. Then the government would try the Vladimir Putin manoeuvre, not a chess move but a Machiavellian political move.

Now, the government would know that if it made it too obvious by appointing the former president to Cabinet, it would agitate a section of the population. To dampen agitation, the current president would appoint the former president as a consultant or advisor, likely without pay, knowing fully well that pay was not an issue as it had already been taken care of. These reasons clearly highlight that a former president serving in any capacity in government or in the presidency may create issues of constitutional validity for the sitting president and the office of the presidency. To bring clarity to the matter, a former president should never serve in any official capacity to a sitting president.

Yours faithfully,
M Maxwell

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