In reading about the Former Presidents (Benefits and Other Facilities) Act No 12, 2009, as presented by Alissa Trotz in the Diaspora column under the caption: ‘The distance between government and the governed: Another look at pensions in Guyana‘ (SN, July 18), reminded me of an Anancy Story in which Brer Anancy named himself ‘All of you‘ so that every time the servant brought the various foods on a platter and placed it on the table which Anancy and the other animals sat around, saying “this is for all of you,“ Anancy smiled and took it all for himself while explaining to the animals that treating him in this special way was an expression of love and appreciation. Thus all the animals were left hungry as he glutted himself. Dr Trotz wrote about this lavish benefit package which the ordinary man in the street hardly knows anything about, and explained the entitlements which are guaranteed to President Bharrat Jagdeo during the remainder of his life after he demits office. We learned also that even if he takes another job in a governmental position, it will not affect his pension package.
There is need here Editor to reproduce part of this benefit package that Dr Trotz highlighted for the sake of those who missed it: “A tax-free pension, free medical treatment for him and dependent members of his family for the rest of his life, an unspecified number of vehicles to be maintained at the taxpayers’ expense, an annual vacation allowance equivalent to the cost of two first class return fares, full time personal security and security at his place of residence, payment of services for an unspecified number of personal and household staff, payment for the services of an ‘attendant‘ and a gardener, payment for services of an unspecified number of clerical staff, payment for services of ‘technical‘ staff, payment of his water rates, payment of his electricity bill, payment of his telephone bills, and toll free road transportation in Guyana.“
Now this is not the story of the king in his magic suit; this is fuh real, a golden benefit package that all can see. For me this “Benefit Package” is insulting and vulgar, and with the present pension rate at the starvation level of $7,500.00, it is a most disturbing scenario. “Obscene” indeed, when a pensioner today gets just about $250 per day and a loaf of bread cost $260! I have no idea what the President’s take-home pay and allowances are, but I’m sure he doesn’t have to spend one cent of it. Now I can understand Dr Roger Luncheon‘s position on this matter in which he was reported as saying that the benefit package was “minimal”; even government ministers who hear no wrong, see no wrong, period! I can overlook this, but what of opposition parliamentarians? What thoughts pass through their minds when this golden benefit package is placed alongside that of pensioners – $7,500 per month? When this Bill was read to them did it send them into a state of mental paralysis? The breakdown in income and spending for two pensioners shows up the unconscionable and preposterous existing state of affairs. From $15,000 a couple must perform a miracle to take care of basics: food, transportation, medical expenses, electricity and the phone bill that adds up to approximately $55-$60,000 per month. What then does a $162 billon budget matter to the poor who are left to starve on a pittance? The situation could not be further from, “government, has an obligation to ensure the needs of its citizen are catered for”; “there could be no development if the state of the poor remains the same.“ I’m in full agreement with Dr Trotz saying that politicians should be confronted and asked to explain their silence on this eyepass, giving former presidents a blank cheque in an immoral benefit act while pensioners must subsist on next to nothing.
Brazen as this whole golden lifetime package is, maybe, just maybe it could have been glossed over if there was more consideration for older folks, who having made their contribution and who are now sailing into their twilight were treated with more decency. For me the main hurdle that I think we will have to get over is the enactment of laws and institution of policies which protect the elite class and allow them to have it all their way, in every-which-way. Alissa Trotz deserves to be commended for highlighting this obnoxious act that our opposition parliamentarians avoided. It makes me ponder on the reason; the advantages/disadvantages; the difference between being frank and bold from abroad and at home. As Forbes Burnham was fond of saying: “Don’t stay abroad and cuss me come home.“