On November 15, 2016, Parliament Office distributed the Order Paper for today’s session of Parliament which contained the hitherto unknown bill for a pension for former Prime Minister Hamilton Green and a range of other benefits.
Titled ‘Prime Minister Hamilton Green Pension Act 2016 – Bill No. 23/2016’ the proposed legislation has triggered condemnation in a number of circles for varying reasons. While all are agreed that those who serve the country should benefit from a pension this must of course be in the realm of reasonableness and must have some sound basis. The bill raises a series of issues which should result in its withdrawal at today’s sitting and reformulation.
The bill in the name of Finance Minister Winston Jordan references the period of Mr Green’s service as Prime Minister from 1985 to 1992 and says it is intended to give him a pension that would allow him to live in accordance with the “high office” he once occupied. Pensions are usually arranged and determined at the time of one’s employment. Is the public to understand from the Finance Minister’s bill that the PNC administration of 1985 to 1992 under the late President Hoyte made no ample pension provision for the Prime Minister?
This would be quite shocking. The obligation to fix a pension for Mr Green was the responsibility of the administration he was part of. Ironically, highly so, the then Finance Minister, Mr Greenidge is now a part of this cabinet. Perhaps he can confirm that the Hoyte administration had no facility for a pension for its Prime Minister and explain the logic or illogic behind it. Does Mr Greenidge have a pension from that period and if so how was it computed?
The onus was always on Mr Green during the period of his service as Prime Minister to ensure that he was accorded pension commensurate with the conditions that existed at that time. Even after 1992, there was no reason why Mr Green could not have pressed his case with the PPP/C government for a pension in recognition of his service.
No government nor the taxpayers who support it should be made to reach back 31 years to make good on a perceived pecuniary wrong or even oversight at today’s dispensation. That would completely distort the basis on which pensions and other benefits are accorded, create an unsustainable precedent and impose an undue burden on taxpayers who are already saddled with onerous payments which will increase over the years thanks to the vulgar provisions introduced by the Jagdeo administration for former presidents.
There may now be dozens of persons under previous PNC administrations who might now be thought to be deserving of a suitable pension or might themselves decide that they should now approach the administration for a pension on the strength of what is proposed for Mr Green. That cannot at all be contemplated if there is to be fiscal responsibility.
Whoever constructed this bill has clearly not thought it through and one would have hoped that parliamentary counsel and the Attorney General’s Chambers would have provided better advice to the government.
Second, it has been clear over the 18 months of this administration, from the multiplicity of national awards conferred, appointments of persons to boards and senior positions that the David Granger administration is on an all-out campaign to rehabilitate the tarnished image of the PNC and its then bigwigs. This pension bill in the name of the former Prime Minister is another such example. Is there a slew of bills coming now in the names of other PNC officials?
Third, it is ill-advised for bills to be presented to Parliament favouring individuals. It invites a certain partisanship in an already deeply divided polity that is unwelcome and counter-productive. The legislative agenda of this administration should have been far more robust than expending political energy and risking confrontation over one person.
It may not have been controversial had the government sought to have Parliament consider an upgrade to Mr Green’s circumstances by awarding a pension based on his salary during 1985 to 1992 adjusted for inflation and any other reasonable variable. The current approach invites ridicule.
While one could consider a reasonable pension for Mr Green, the string of benefits to former Presidents should not be applicable to him. Those controversial provisions which still rankle were meant to be for former Presidents not former prime ministers.
This bill is one of a series that will increasingly call into question the role that the AFC is playing or not playing in decision making by the APNU+AFC administration.