Opposition mounted yesterday to a pension bill for former PNC Prime Minister Hamilton Green with Transparency Institute Guyana Inc (TIGI) calling for its withdrawal and describing it as vulgar, political partisan and reeking of cronyism.
TIGI’s statement came a day after a blistering attack on the bill by the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) which called it “obnoxious” and urged the APNU+AFC government not to present it at today’s sitting of Parliament.
TIGI, the local affiliate of global anti-corruption body, Transparency International, noted that the Prime Minister Hamilton Green’s Pension Bill, 2016 was written specifically for Green and provides for him to be paid a pension for his tenure as Prime Minister between 1985 and 1992 based on the salary of a current Prime Minister – a salary he did not earn. Further, it noted that Green is to receive the full benefits of a former President –
a position which he never held. TIGI said it was also aware that Green was awarded by the same coalition government, as one of its first acts, the country’s second highest national honour.
“This bill for Mr. Green is vulgar, politically partisan and it reeks of cronyism. It appears that the PNC faction of the coalition government is seeking to financially take care of one of its own former strongmen through the public purse”, TIGI declared.
It said that it was significant that the coalition has singled out Green for special treatment while ignoring the contributions of “far more deserving, decent and patriotic individuals among whom Mr. Rashleigh Jackson stands out on the Government’s side. And what about those who stood up to Mr. Green and his unacceptable conduct? People like a Eusi Kwayana and Moses Bhagwan, who for their long-suffering service and sacrifice to protect Guyana from Green’s authoritarian …policies have been overlooked”.
TIGI charged that the “sheer extravagance” of the provisions of the bill “is an insult to all hardworking nurses, teachers, policemen and public servants who are denied a substantial increase in their salaries”.
It argued that the decision on the Green Bill defies “logic, history and decency”. It lamented that the bill rewards Green above and beyond his due, even though “his role in the most sordid period and events of Guyana is second to no other living Guyanese.”
TIGI cited Tacuma Ogunseye, a member of the executive of the WPA and the third ranking partner in the coalition government as publicly stating that he believes it was Green who poisoned Forbes Burnham’s mind against Dr. Walter Rodney when he returned from Tanzania to serve his country.
“Mr. Green’s not-too-peaceful role in workers’ struggle for bread and justice is well-documented. The failure of the police to interview him in relation to some grave high-profile criminal events remains a blot on its reputation and this goes a long way in explaining the distrust of the institution that continues today”, TIGI declared.
The transparency body said that arguments will be made about the “pittance” which Green receives as a pension but that at the time the law was passed, Guyana’s economy and exchange rates were reasonable.
“It was the reckless and undemocratic policies pursued by the government of which Mr. Green was Prime Minister that led to the destruction of the economy and the plunging of the exchange rate. How can the government in good conscience squeeze the citizens to now bail Mr. Green out above and beyond (his) due when they have also suffered the consequences of this policies?” TIGI asked.
The group also questioned the genesis of this bill.
“The indecent haste with which it was quietly written to be presented in parliament on Monday 21st November without significant public knowledge beforehand confirms the impropriety of its legislative intent. TIGI calls on the government to divulge the date of the cabinet decision that (led) to the drafting of the bill and to explain the lack of public disclosure via post Cabinet briefings which served to negate robust public debate”, TIGI stated.
It asked whether post Cabinet press briefings are carefully sifted to withhold controversial decisions and to avoid public scrutiny. TIGI also queried whether the government intended to send the bill to a select committee for debate and public contributions or to take it through all it stages at one sitting.
“That we have to ask these questions is symptomatic of the reality that the nation has been blindsided. This bill is outrageous, unfair, vulgar, in poor taste and is an affront to good governance, accountability and transparency. One takes public office to serve the people rather than for personal enrichment but since the coalition government took office, it has been unashamed and apologetic about lining the pockets of politicians and friends of the party”, TIGI railed.
It added that should this bill be rushed through parliament today it would confirm that the “political elite of Guyana, on all sides of the political spectrum, are primarily concerned with protecting the financial interests of their own at the expense of the Guyanese people.”
TIGI also upped pressure on junior coalition partner, the Alliance For Change to state its position on the bill.
“TIGI also calls on the AFC’s faction of government to clarify its position on this bill and set out cogent reasons why it presumably supports (it) given the absence of any strenuous objection from them”, the statement said.
In its statement on Saturday, the GHRA said “The Prime Minister Hamilton Green Pension Bill 2016 on the Order Paper is utterly shocking. His entire political career reflects the attributes that have kept Guyana ethnically polarized and, for this reason, securely anchored at the bottom of all Caribbean indicators of social and economic progress in the modern era. As a young and ruthless politician in the early 1960s his name figured prominently in the violence from which this society has still to recover”. It urged the government not to submit the bill.
It added that there is no justification for the bill beyond “cronyism” and noted that to date Green has “never apologized for the humiliation, hardship and violence to which the Guyanese people were subjected during his harrowing term of office.” It said that had late President Cheddi Jagan in 1992 “not ‘drawn a veil’ over the past in the interests of social peace, Mr. Green might have found himself facing the courts.”
It further said that a personalized bill to reward Green for a “lifetime of politics marked by incompetence and divisiveness” is provocative in the context of the current administration’s anti-corruption campaign.
The opposition PPP/C has also pilloried the bill.
Green has welcomed the bill as “timely, just, fair, and in order,” while noting that he has been living skimpily on the largesse of his wife and children.
He did, however, note that the bill should not have been made specific to him but all Prime Ministers, while pointing out that when the PPP/C enacted the legislation on the benefits for former presidents, it did not include the Prime Minister. “I don’t know why but probably because there was [former Prime Minister] Sam Hinds that would have served as president himself and would have benefitted from the president’s benefits anyhow. Only PPP members benefit from that bill, you have [former President Bharrat] Jagdeo, Hinds and [former President Donald] Ramotar,” he told Stabroek News.
Green is of the view that every former Prime Minister should get the benefits, in keeping with the global practices, to enjoy a level of comfort that they had while in the post. He also said that benefits for former ministers and parliamentarians should also be addressed.