When persons lose sight of principles and focus on personalities, it undermines productive discourse and objective decision-making. This is a problem we see far too much of and too often in our society.
The issue of a Bill tabled in the National Assembly addressing primarily the pension of Hamilton Green as former prime minister cannot stand the test of scrutiny in its present form. Those who have taken the position that Green, serving as prime minister does not deserve a pension because of what is perceived as intransigence during his tenure in office, buttressed by their assessment of the PNC’s record in office, do not have merit in their argument.
The most disturbing and reckless arguments being used to deny the pension have emanated from the Guyana Human Rights Association and Transparency Institute of Guyana Incorporated. Pension is a right under the Guyana Constitution. Any organisation or individual that takes a position to deny an individual a pension he or she is entitled to is engaging in a human rights violation.
With that being said, a non-contributory pension is not meant to sustain one who is no longer employed in the said position at the same standard of living. Neither is a pension meant to pay one who is not doing the job, the same sum as the one actively doing the job. A pension is meant to provide income at a percentage of what one would have earned during the work period or his/her work life. This is the principle that must guide the thinking in determining the fixing of pension, and the government must set the standard for it.
The Former Presidents (Benefits and other Facilities) Act is flawed. This law is self-serving and meant to reward those no longer serving at the same remuneration as the person who is actively employed, expected to turn up to work, and account for his or her day-to-day activities. It is unfair and indiscriminate and the society must question and hold accountable those who evidently see public office as a gravy train.
The society must be concerned that former presidents are receiving pensions at the sum the sitting president is receiving as salary. The bill in the name of Green seeks to do the same thing, but in this case applicable to the Office of the Prime Minister.
What the society needs, and the Minister of Finance must address, is creating a formula that is grounded in universally accepted principles of what constitutes a pension for members of the National Assembly and ministers of government. This formula must not lose sight of inflationary considerations.
The Bill in the name of Green must be reconsidered. Pension must be about public offices not about persons. Likewise, this 11th Parliament must move to bring a Bill that regularises pensions for those who served as members of parliament and ministers of government. According to the constitution any member of parliament on either side of the House can bring any Bill to the National Assembly. A pension must reflect a reasonable percentage of income, not the full income.
An example can be taken from the United States. As wealthy as that country is, the president’s pension is equivalent to that of the head of an executive department (ie, a minister) and this sum is taxable income. When Barack Obama leaves office he will not receive the US$400,000 per year salary as pension, but $203,700 per year which is the equivalent to a minister/secretary.
Guyana remains a donkey cart economy and elected leaders too must live in accordance with the economic reality.