Friday, May 1, 2009

Presidents benefits bill passes deeply divided Parliament

Presidents benefits bill passes deeply divided Parliament

Posted By Andre Haynes On May 1, 2009 @ 5:16 am In Local News | 20 Comments
-opposition calls for caps ignored

The government last evening used its parliamentary majority to pass a bill to legislate benefits for former presidents, despite opposition concern over its scope.
Ashni Singh [1]

Ashni Singh

The Former Presidents (Benefits and Other Facilities) Bill 2009 had a thorny passage through the house, where both the PNCR-1G and the AFC insisted that there be caps put on the entitlements that would be available through the legislation. On a call for a division before the final reading of the bill, it received 32 government votes in its favour and 25 opposition votes against. While the two opposition parties said they did not object to the principle behind the legislation, they withheld support for it in the absence of specific details about the benefits. GAP-ROAR was the sole opposition party to give support to the bill, although the party’s MP Everall Franklin did indicate some reservations and warned the government to be ready to defend it when labour leaders come seeking benefits for the working people.

Finance Minister Dr. Ashni Singh, who piloted the bill through its final stages, led the government benches on the bill, explaining that it is in keeping with the government’s commitment to openness and transparency and declared that all Guyanese committed to ensuring former presidents are “treated with appropriate respect” would support the bill. At the end of the debate, which saw several caustic exchanges that led Speaker Ralph Ramkarran to call for order, he said he was disappointed that it was as “rancorous” as it turned out to be.

Underscoring a point that would become the mantra for the government speakers, Singh emphasised that it was a “statute-based approach” to enshrine benefits and facilities that have thus far been provided for through custom and practice at the discretion of both the current and previous administrations. He noted that it was in vein that the Office of the Spouse of the President Bill was introduced (which was also passed at yesterday’s sitting, albeit with support of all the parties).
Winston Murray [2]

Winston Murray

Additionally, the government yesterday tabled the Leader of the Opposition (Benefits and Other Facilities) Bill 2009, seeking to put into law access to certain benefits and other facilities to be enjoyed by the office holder.

In the days leading up to the debate, the benefits proposed for former presidents had been the subject of a public relations war between the government and the main opposition. The PNCR-1G, in a full page ad in the national newspapers condemned the bill as an attempt by President Bharrat Jagdeo to secure “luxurious living at the expense of taxpayers” through legislation. However, the PPP/C administration launched a campaign to defend the legislation, while accusing the main opposition of double standards and duplicity.

Singh said that while the opposition sought to claim that the issue was about principle rather than any individual, the ads attacked the person of the President, whom they dubbed shameless and selfish.

PNCR-1G MP and shadow finance minister Winston Murray told the Assembly that the main opposition endorsed the principle that the bill sought to enshrine but wanted specifics and he called on the government to send it to a special select committee in order to secure consensus. “If you want a statute-based approach, you should specify the benefits,” he argued.

Murray said that the party believed a bill of such nature should be devoid of controversy, while noting the need for the highest offices in the land to be treated with great dignity. He added that while the party might disagree with the approach of the head of state, it has never questioned the deep commitment of any of the holders of the office to building the nation.

Indeed, he agreed that the previous approach had the disadvantage of exposing the former office holders to the direction of the administration and supported ensuring rights by statute, arguing that it was on the same basis that the party would support the Leader of the Opposition’s benefits bill. At the same time, Murray urged that the benefits and provisions offered under the bill be detailed with greater specificity, complaining that it lacked exact meaning in a number of instances. “We believe that these things should have a cap,” he said, mentioning that the working people are often told that they cannot have increases and have to settle for pittances. “Why must we ensure in law open-ended benefits?”

Among the benefits and facilities proposed by the bill is payment of utilities at the place of residence in Guyana; the services of personal and household staff, including an attendant and a gardener; services of clerical and technical staff, if requested; full-time personal security and services of the Presidential Guard Service 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.

While Singh said the benefits outlined in the bill were based on what has been offered to former presidents and in some instances what has been requested, Murray expressed concern about the open-endedness inherent in the bill, pointing out that it did not give any specific numbers. In this regard, he objected to clause 3 of the bill, which states that the minister may make regulations for giving effect to its provisions. He questioned also whether similar amenities were indeed given to late former presidents Arthur Chung or Desmond Hoyte, citing the provisions for an unspecified number of vehicles and the services of the presidential guard. “We certainly didn’t give him anything like this,” he said, referring to Chung. “Maybe we were too mean… but that doesn’t mean we should go overboard now and try to give away the public purse.”

Murray also registered his concern about the proviso for tax exemptions on par with serving presidents, noting that they receive tax-free incomes.

Meanwhile, AFC MP Khemraj Ramjattan declared that with the bill the PPP/C was betraying the legacy of late former President Cheddi Jagan, saying the founders of the party had urged against extravagance. “It makes me feel the ‘PPP’ is now ‘Perks, Privilege and Power,’” he said, “I won’t tell you what the ‘C’ is for-corruption is all over the place.”

He also argued for the bill to include caps, questioning how it could be considered accountable and transparent when it leaves major discretion positive to former presidents and negative to tax payers.

According to him, the bill is scandalous to the extreme, coming as it does when the country is surrounded by financial crisis and all across the Caribbean, leaders are considering pay cuts. And our PPP stalwarts are gonna say yeah to this bill,” he said, although observing that none of the government’s chosen speakers on the bill were members of the governing party. Ramjattan also questioned the haste to pass the bill, noting that it was suspicious on the heels of an announcement by the president that he was uninterested in serving a third term contrary to speculation.

In giving his support to the bill, Franklin said he believed former presidents should be made as comfortable as possible so that they have no need to seek other employment and could remain assets to the governance of the country. He added that a monetary value cannot be put to the service of presidents and urged that the bill not be seen as being intended for any specific person but rather for looking after all former presidents. However, he also said that the government ought to consider provisions for removing benefits in instances where former presidents are criminally charged or impeached as well as a stipulation that residency be a requirement to access the benefits.

Labour Minister Manzoor Nadir, Foreign Affairs Minister Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett, PPP/C MP Odinga Lumumba and PNCR MPs Aubrey Norton and Lance Carberry also spoke on the bill.

Meanwhile, the Leader of the Opposition (Benefits and Other Facilities) Bill 2009 provides by statute access to amenities and benefits by the holder of the office, having regard to the services and dignity attached to the office. According to the bill, the holder of the office shall be entitled at government expense to a rent-free furnished office accommodation; medical attention, including medical treatment or reimbursement of medical expenses incurred by him for himself and the dependent members of his family; full time security service at his official place of residence; the services of a secretary or an executive secretary, a chauffeur, a gardener and a domestic servant; and vacation allowance as is applicable to a minister.
Carberry, who conducted discussions for drafting of the legislation, pointed out that in stark contrast to the former presidents’ bill, it specifies the benefits that would be provided.
20 Comments (Open | Close)

20 Comments To "Presidents benefits bill passes deeply divided Parliament"

#1 Comment By SandHurst First On May 1, 2009 @ 5:52 am

…See, i tell yall these people can pass anything in parliament that they want…its like the opposition is not there. This is not democracy….its communism!!!!!!

#2 Comment By WAR_530 On May 1, 2009 @ 6:46 am

These people have no shame or integrity. Let’s see how they handle union negotiations. A tax exemption for the ex-president is an extravagance Guyana can’t afford and says to all wage earners, you are not of the same importance. This, from a government that is socialist in nature. I hope that any future loans and grants to the country have clauses that none of the these monies can be used for the enrichment of the private citizens. The expectation that the PPP/C will be voted out of office at the next election is remote, as their supporters do not vote for them but vote against the other parties. This sheep-like behaviour will hopefully one day be reversed, and the first order of business of the new government should be the revocation of this travesty.
Imagine there isn’t a residency requirement for these benefits. Tax payers find a way to show your revulsion to this indecent grab. Overseas Guyanese reduce or terminate your remittances. Show them that public service is a calling and not an avenue for personal enrichment.

#3 Comment By tiger On May 1, 2009 @ 7:06 am

well there you go as expected, as i’ve said before the bill would be passed anyway dospite all the noise the opposition was keeping,now i presumed that an increase in the wages of the public sector employees would be forthcomming.

#4 Comment By FREESPEECH On May 1, 2009 @ 7:11 am

a gardener and servant, no, no no.
caps must be included it should not be a variable, it will lead to abuse.

#5 Comment By NeNe On May 1, 2009 @ 7:29 am

No surprise here. Anything and everything happens in Guyana. I said it before, Jagdeo and all (if ever any) future presidents will be president for life. Too much of a burden on the country - this should be offensive to the citizens - I guess they are too busy to see what is happening in their own backyard.

#6 Comment By evileyes On May 1, 2009 @ 7:36 am

This is not democracy….its communism!!!!!!One blog head says…then there is no democracy and commnism in the land of the free and the home of the brave…how many bills passed by majority democrats with out a single republican vote???
then there was also a constitutional dictator for 8 years where it ran rampant invading a country with no links to 911…we all knew the rest of what took place there….
all the opposition in Guyana wants is a lil bit publicity to rile up their base because it was idle for too long….

#7 Comment By SWAT On May 1, 2009 @ 8:02 am

SHF - You and those that live in GY should be the only ones that should be commenting on this issue. Those blog heads that are living outside GY should not be commenting because it is not their tax dollars that will be funding these benefits.

#8 Comment By john On May 1, 2009 @ 8:10 am

This will attract alot of intellectuals for the 2011 elections.Why such a bill ?The president only has two terms in office.He needs to be taken care ok.The other presidents did not enjoy this because they felt they were president for life so they do not need this package to survive .They can serve how long they wanted.Look at Robert Mugabe he does not need a package.

#9 Comment By Sarkar On May 1, 2009 @ 8:27 am

Give it a rest!!! Keep it loal to the issue on hand!! What are you trying to do? Bowl a misir googly?

#10 Comment By Deygoo Marc On May 1, 2009 @ 8:37 am

OH please resurrect CHEDDI this government needs a lesson in realpolitics. What a disgrace to the good man.

#11 Comment By a_mieczkiewicz On May 1, 2009 @ 8:39 am

Agreed, SandHurst first, doesn’t really know what’s communism,so he should refrain form making such rash statements. In democratic countries, it’s the perogotive of the ruling majority to pass its legislations through the houses.To pass massive bills, such as constituitonal change, there is the check, that they must gain a 2\3 majority.Communism is\was a totally different story,mainly single party states without or mainly ‘token’ opposition. 32 to 25 isn’t such a ‘whooping’ victory :)

#12 Comment By Desiree Liverpool On May 1, 2009 @ 9:00 am

The president is too young for that.imagine 1000.00 dollars
for single parents. Shame.

#13 Comment By DMACK On May 1, 2009 @ 9:09 am

What is democracy? If you can answer this then you will know this is wrong!!! Forget party affiliation.

#14 Comment By Convenient On May 1, 2009 @ 9:44 am

This evileyes suites your comments. Where is the democracy? The PPP party Lead by founder leader Cheddi Jagan struggle like Burnham - Cheddi Jagan would have never do this to the poor people of Guyana. The time has come for the Guyanese people to open their eyes and see how Jagdeo and this PPP Government are selfish and looking after their own personal needs (They have forgotten who voted then in office, “the people”).

When the Bill was passing in Parliament a day before “LABOUR DAY” did the PPP Government or President Jagdeo think of the Poor people - the sugar workers, the Nurses, Public servants on the whole NO!

Is this true democracy? The Guyanese people should asked themselves, if Jagdeo as President has done enough to EARN THE SALARY AND BENEFITS HE IS RECEIVING NOW? Find a job after you leave Office in 2011.

#15 Comment By Andy On May 1, 2009 @ 9:50 am

They can pass anything they want because their ‘eyes pass’ Guyanese. Check this out: “While the two opposition parties said they did not object to the principle behind the legislation, they withheld support for it in the absence of specific details about the benefits.”

Tell me how a Parliament can approve a package it never reviewed or does not know details about, eh? And this is the same PPP that bitterly compained against the excesses and abuses of the PNC regime. This is the same PPP that is seeking to return to power in 2011.

I have a gut feeling that Jagdeo is still going to try and pull a third term stunt, but this package is merely a golden parachute in case his mission fails.

Should a new government be instaledd in 2011, I hope the new Parliament revisits this package and bring it in line with Guyana’s economic reality.

#16 Comment By SOESDYKE On May 1, 2009 @ 9:52 am

SandHurst, what opposition are you talking about.

#17 Comment By Andy On May 1, 2009 @ 10:00 am

Evileyes, you are a disgrace to the working poor of Guyana. Being able to win an election is not equated to running a democracy or even manage government in a fair and sensitive manner. I don’t believe Guyana is a communist state, but because the PPP refuses to sever the umbilical cord to communism, it lends to arguments by critics that it is behaving like typical communist dictatorships when it runs roughshod over the people.

In principle, the benefits bill for former presidents is good. However, note that the details of the bill have not even been properly debated by Parliament, even though there are grave misgivings about the cost of the items being sought as benefits in a country’s whose economy is so depressed that most Guyanese cannot survive without the IMF, WB, remittances, barrels and money laundering.

Jagdeo has done nothing as President to deserve this kind of package deal and it should be revisited right after he leaves office.

#18 Comment By Cheryl On May 1, 2009 @ 10:00 am

You darn right Sand, how come parliament cannot pass a bill to ceast these criminals from attacking citizens, pass a bill for those who abuses children, women, men and animals.

Jagdeo and his big boys at parliament think people r idiots, come election, let me see how votes wold go.

#19 Comment By Amarie On May 1, 2009 @ 10:01 am

SWAT anybody who sends money that is spent in Guyana is paying for this.

#20 Comment By Amarie On May 1, 2009 @ 10:11 am

This type of outrage is the reason Guyanese are fleeing their country by any means necessary. Expect more outward bound traffic on the new bridge and longer lines at the US Consulate. Guyanese (even the ones who voted for this disgraceful government) will continue to seek escapes from this tragedy that is called the PPP (not to be confused with the real PPP headed by Jagan).

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