A Partnership for National Unity (APNU)’s Shadow Finance Minister, Carl Greenidge, is contending that the political
opposition does not have an issue per se with the pension of Former President, Bharrat Jagdeo, although it is not set according to any principle used in the public service, but it is the uncapped benefits that are worrying and for which limits must be set.
The Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said that Jagdeo’s monthly electricity bill alone at over $375,000 by far exceeds most parliamentarians’ monthly pension and salary.
Greenidge reminded that the former President received a pension totaling $37.2M up to the end of last month. This is in addition to the recently disclosed figures upwards of $45M ($45,417,950) which the taxpayers have had to spend on his electricity bills, transportation and security between December 2011 and last February.
Using the monthly average for his security, transportation, electricity and pension Jagdeo to date, since leaving office, has cost taxpayers in excess of $90M. This figure does not take into account all of the other expenditure incurred by the former president under his ‘Pension and other benefits Package.”
In an exclusive interview with this publication, the Former Finance Minister said that the public needs to separate the pension from the benefits before they can fully understand the problem.
He explained that Governments set pensions and reimburse expenses on the basis of widely accepted principles.
“Although it is ethically wrong for the President to legislate for himself his own pension on the basis of new principles just before leaving office, that is not the heart of the quarrel…It is his uncapped additional benefits that are the problem. When Jagdeo raised the emoluments of the Chancellor and the Chief Justice, he tied to it the emoluments of the President. He then tied the pension of the President to the emoluments of the current President not his (Jagdeo’s) own last salary. If you move President Donald Ramotar’s salary, the retired President’s goes up as well.”
“The President’s pension is to be seven-eighths of that of the salary of the current president. So if the President once received $2M in 2009 and it moved to $7M in 2012, the former President gets that fraction of not what he worked for before in 2009, but the bulk of the salary of the current President.”
The politician referred to the Constitution which says that the President should get a pension. But Jagdeo passed a piece of legislation, the Former Presidents (Benefits and Facilities) Act, in 2009, which says that he should in addition to his pension, get other benefits.
Greenidge said that this was never the intention of the Constitution, and is what his coalition is opposed to in principle.
“We are not trying to change the pension, and the public needs to understand that this is a most disgraceful situation,” he added.
The APNU Parliamentarian said that the public needs to recognize that these additional benefits, provided for in law, have been poorly worded and as a result do not provide limits.
“If Jagdeo retired without children and tomorrow decides to adopt 50 children and he wants to take all of them to the USA to seek medical attention, the taxpayer has to pay. If he wants an Olympic-size swimming pool that costs a further US$1M for electricity we have to pay for it. The benefits need to be capped. Neither former US Presidents nor the former T&T President enjoy anything like this, for example. The magnitude of these benefits bear no relation to any paid to NIS pensioners or to public servants,” the politician argued.
He said that it is something that Jagdeo specifically designed for himself and “his PPP cronies that will succeed him and voted for it.”
“No Member of Parliament will receive if he/she lives to (2050) age 90, 7/8 of the salary of the Parliamentary salary in 2050. In other words, the pension he has paid himself is already generous, even without the other benefits which were added in 2009. The benefits alone are extravagant and leave it likely that the former President is receiving more in income and benefits than any current President. This is ridiculous and that is why there has been a continuing public outcry,” Greenidge concluded.
Apart from what has been disclosed, Jagdeo is also entitled to, under the controversial law he enacted: expenses incurred in the provision and use of water; telephone services at the place of residence in Guyana; services of personal and household staff, including an attendant and a gardener; services of clerical and technical staff (numbers not specified), if requested; free medical attendance and medical treatment or reimbursement of medical expenses incurred by him for the medical attendance or treatment of himself and the dependant members of his family.
As it relates to the tax exemption status, Greenidge said that if the former President were to get involved in activities such as gold mining for example, they would not be taxed. The APNU parliamentarian said that this is completely “unprecedented and unacceptable.”
Greenidge had attempted to cap the benefits by bringing amendments to the National Assembly. This was approved by the Opposition in 2012, but President
Donald Ramotar has refused to assent to it.