A case lodged this week in the High Court is seeking a series of declarations to protect the benefits of former President Bharrat Jagdeo under the controversial Former Presidents (Benefits and Other Facilities) Act 2009.
Colin Pilgrim, a Charlestown resident, has filed the motion seeking several orders, including one for the issuing of the requisite regulations under the Act to permit Jagdeo to tap a broad range of benefits. The seeking of this order would suggest that Jagdeo had not accessed all of benefits enshrined in the Act.
The controversial Act, which had come under severe criticism from opposition parties and other sections of society over what they said was its extravagance, was passed in 2009 with the PPP/C administration using its majority. After the 2011 elections, the opposition-led National Assembly passed an amendment bill reducing the benefits. This bill was not signed into law by President Donald Ramotar.
The present court action, filed through attorney at law Murseline Bacchus, is the second in which Jagdeo was named, while he seemingly has no active participation in them. Earlier this month, a petition was filed by Cedrick Richardson, challenging presidential terms limit. The West Ruimveldt resident, through his attorneys, said the term limit was unconstitutional on the grounds that it was made a parliamentary decision instead of by referendum. Jagdeo has since indicated to this newspaper that he had nothing to do with the motion and that he has no interest in another term in office as president.
The timing of that motion and the new one on the presidential benefits raises questions about the motives behind the actions at this point. Guyana is set to go to the polls on May 11 and there is the belief in some quarters that efforts are afoot to fix certain issues, so that leading members of the government would not be affected if they are voted out of office. It is believed that if the combined opposition, which has since formed an alliance for the upcoming elections, wins, one of their first acts would be to tackle the Former Presidents Benefits Act to reduce the amount of benefits a former president can receive. Observers say it would strain credulity that these two actions would be brought by ordinary citizens without the blessing of persons close to Jagdeo.
Stabroek News made a number of unsuccessful attempts yesterday to reach Attorney General Anil Nandlall, who is listed as the respondent in the matter, for a comment and a clarification on whether Jagdeo had ever benefited under the Act. Parliament had been told on July 10, 2014 that Jagdeo’s living expenses for 27 months since he demitted office had totaled $45.4M.
Bacchus, when contacted yesterday, stated that it was a bad time and that he would speak this morning.
In the action, Pilgrim asked for a declaration that the Act has conferred an entitlement to the benefits and facilities contained therein on Jagdeo as a former President of Guyana and any or all former Presidents; a declaration that the benefits and facilities contained in the Act constitute property within the meaning of Article 142 of the Constitution, a declaration that the property rights conferred by section 2 of the Act became vested in the Applicant as a Former President of Guyana, when he ceased to hold the office of President on the 3rd day of December, 2011 by virtue of Article 192 of the Constitution; and a declaration that the state is in breach of its statutory duty pursuant to section 22 (1) of the General Clauses and Interpretation Act, Chapter 2:01 by not laying the required Subsidiary Legislation (Regulations) as required by Section 3 of the Act for giving effect to the provisions of the said Act and therefore is acting in frustration of the substantive legitimate expectation of former president Jagdeo.
He also asked for a declaration that Jagdeo, as a Former President of Guyana, has an expectation that property rights conferred and vested unto him under section 2 of the Act would have been made available to him for his enjoyment within a reasonable time of the enactment of the said Act.
Pilgrim also wants the court to grant orders directing the Minister of Finance and/or the state to forthwith comply with section 3 of the Act and section 22 (1) of the General Clauses and Interpretation Act, Chapter 2:01 by laying the Regulations in Parliament for giving effect to the provisions of the Act; directing the State to comply with the provisions of section 2 of the Act and provide the benefits set out and conferred by section 2 (a), (b), (d), (g), (h), and (i) of the Act and declaring that the Former President’s (Benefits and Facilities) Bill No. 29 of 2012 published on the 11th day of January, 2013 will affect the property rights already conferred on the applicant and protected by article 142 of the Constitution and vested in the Applicant by section 2 of the Former President’s (Benefits and Facilities) Act 2009.
According to the court action, Jagdeo upon demitting Office of President of Guyana on the 3rd day of December, 2011, becoming a Former President of Guyana, held and holds a substantive legitimate expectation that the property rights conferred and vested in him by section 2 of the Act would have been made available to him within a reasonable time. A reasonable time according to the documents has long elapsed since the Act came into force.
The documents stated too that Section 3 of the 2009 Act has not been complied with in that regulations have not been issued by the designated Minister to give effect to the provisions of the said Act nor have any regulations been laid in Parliament.
It said that pursuant to section 22 (1) of the General Clauses and Interpretations Act, Chapter 2:01 no regulations have been laid before the National Assembly as is required by the Former President’s (Benefits and Facilities) Act 2009.
In his affidavit in support of the originating summons, the Charlestown resident outlines the benefits a former president should receive. Section 2 of the Act lists them as 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; service of personal and household staff including an attendant and a gardener; services of clerical and technical staff, if required; free medical attendance and medical treatment or reimbursement of medical expenses incurred by him for the medical attendance or treatment of himself and the dependent members of his family; full time personal security and services of the Presidential Guard Services at the place of residence; the provision of motor vehicles owned and maintained by the state; toll free road transportation in Guyana; 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; and a tax exemption status identical to that enjoyed by a serving President.
Pilgrim said he has been advised by his attorney-at- law and verily believes that no regulations have been made by the Minister of Finance to give effect to the provisions of the Act nor has any been laid before the National Assembly and as such no benefits under the Act can be received by Jagdeo.
He said too that he has been advised by Bacchus and verily believes that a Bill (No. 29 of 2012) published by the Clerk of the National Assembly and titled “Former Presidents (Benefits and Other Facilities) Bill 2012” in the Official Gazette of the 11th day of January, 2013 seeks to deprive Jagdeo of the rights conferred and vested in him by the “Former Presidents (Benefits and Other Facilities) Bill 2009.”