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Former Presidents benefits and facilities to be trimmed

Former Presidents Donald Ramotar and Bharrat Jagdeo.

Former presidents of Guyana will cease to enjoy tax exemptions and concessions if government passes its proposed Former Presidents (Benefits and Facilities) Bill 2015.

Importantly, Section 5 of the bill stipulates that former presidents will forfeit entitlement to “the benefits and other facilities provided under Section 3, if the former President engages in business, trade, or paid employment or is convicted of a criminal offence for which a term of imprisonment is imposed.”

Additionally, Section 3 (a) of the bill, which will be laid in the National Assembly on Thursday, proposes a capped allowance of $25,000 for water each month. The same amount will be provided for monthly electricity and telephone expenses respectively.

The bill, however, does not seek to amend former presidents’ pension which is around $1.2 million per month. 

This bill’s predecessor, enacted in 2009, allowed for unlimited allowances for the above utilities, and granted tax exemptions and concessions consistent with what sitting presidents receive. Section 4 of the bill proposes the cessation of such benefits as government looks to have the Former President’s (Benefits and Facilities) Bill 2015 repeal the old legislation.

Currently, Guyana has three living former presidents – Bharat Jagdeo, Samuel Hinds, and Donald Ramotar. The benefits and facilities of President David Granger, whose government is piloting the said bill, will also be capped.

This Former President’s (Benefits and Facilities) Bill was first brought by A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) when it sat as part of the opposition in 2013. It was piloted by APNU’s Carl Greenidge, who argued that the former president’s pension is sufficient for a former president to live with dignity commensurate with the office.

 APNU had combined with the Alliance for Change (AFC) to pass the bill but it was never assented to by Ramotar who was president at the time.  

Section 3 (b) of the bill proposes to limit personal household staff of former presidents to three (3), while Section 3 (c) limits clerical and technical staff to three (3). The latter precludes the use of the specified staff for political purposes, although it is not entirely sure what constitutes a political purpose.

Former presidents and their children, if the bill is passed, will also be subject to “a financial limit of $200,000 per annum, free medical attention and treatment or reimbursement of medical expenses incurred by – a former president himself and his children below the age of eighteen years.”

The spouse of the former president will also be covered under this provision which is encapsulated in Section 3 (d). The same legislation, however, dictates that reimbursement will not be given for medical attention attained abroad where it could have been received in Guyana at government institutions.

Section 3 (f) proposes that former presidents be allowed “not more than two motor-vehicles owned and maintained by the state.”

It is important to note that the bill brought in 2013 sought to limit benefits to natural children of former presidents. During the bill’s debate at that the time, then Housing Minister, Irfaan Ali, had labeled the proposed legislation as “discriminatory,” arguing that it was a “blatant disregard for existing child legislation.”

Education Minister Rupert Roopnaraine, who served as APNU point-man on Natural Resources issues, had said that the relevant clause would have had to be amended.

Former Legal Affairs Minister, Anil Nandlall, had said in 2013 that the new legislation could not be retrospective, and could therefore not apply to any former president who commenced receiving benefits under the old legislation before its enactment. However, as the new bill repeals the same one it is unclear if Nandlall’s assertion is accurate. 

The Bill could be easily passed by government’s 33-seat simple majority whether or not the main opposition People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) attends the 65-member legislature.