Guyana’s opposition looking to put an end to Former President Bharrat Jagdeo’s plundering of the Guyanese tax dollars
UPDATED: Guyana’s opposition moving to slash former presidents benefits.
Almost one week after government announced meagre increases in Old Age Pensions and Public Assistance, Guyana’s opposition political parties on Monday signaled they would be moving to scrap the Former President’s (Benefits and Other Facilities) Act 2009.
A Partnership for National Unity’s (APNU) Carl Greenidge is tabling a motion for the law to be scrapped- a move the Alliance For Change (AFC) will support. AFC Chairman, Khemraj Ramjattan also plans to table an amendment for the law to be repealed.
Ramjattan says the AFC will likely support APNU’s motion in exchange for support for its amendment to be repealed. While the combined opposition can use its one-seat majority of 33 seats to pass Greenidge’s motion and the AFC’s amendment, Ramjattan says the president can refuse to assent the amendment but face public ridicule.
“The president might very well not assent to the Bill but he will have to show the nation, their supporters, the ordinary people how they are hypocrites and their rhetoric does not match their reality,” Ramjattan told Demerara Waves Online News (www.demwaves.com )
But government spokesman Dr. Roger Luncheon on Thursday appeared bemused at Greenidge’s motion.
“I don’t see what on earth a parliamentary motion can do in the face of statute. If I could be presumptuous and I suspect I would be considered so … he would know that the only way you could repeal a piece of legislation is not by parliamentary motion, that indeed an act of parliament to amend or repeal the extant legislation is the only way to so do.”
According to Dr. Luncheon, the move by the APNU parliamentarian is mere “grandstanding.”
Decisions to challenge the Former Presidents (Benefits and Other Facilities) Act 2009 were made known after last Friday’s announcement in the National Budget that Public Assistance will increase from GUY$5,500 to GUY$5,900 monthly and Old Age Pension from $7,500 per month to $8,100 per month.
The opposition has been voicing concern that while Former President Bharrat Jagdeo’s pension alone would be an estimated GUY$1 million monthly, the law tabled in 2009 gives him another GUY$2 million monthly in electricity, telephone, vehicles, fuel, security personnel and other staff.
“It is now obvious that when compared to what the ordinary pensioner is getting, the facilities and benefits must go,” Ramjattan added.
The Guyana government has vehemently denied that Jagdeo is getting such a hefty package of benefits and other facilities.
Greenidge, in his motion, agrees that the National Assembly should make appropriate, adequate and reasonable provision for a president to enjoy a comfortable and dignified retirement. At the same time, he argues that it must be linked to the ability of Guyana to pay.
“Former President’s (Benefits and Other Facilities) Act 2009 has caused concern and resulted in adverse reaction among sections of the citizens of Guyana, in particular as to the ability of the country to sustain the benefits set out therein,” says Greenidge in his Motion.
He wants the 65-seat House to “immediately take steps to repeal the legislation “without prejudice, however, to the payment of benefits.”
Greenidge, a former Finance Minister, instead recommends that a Parliamentary Committee examine the Pensions (President, Parliamentary and Special Offices) Act, Part II Section 4 (Rate of President and Calculation of Pension 7/8 Ceiling of Pension) and to make proposals for their revision.
He will also ask the House that a Special Parliamentary Committee submit as a matter of urgency a revised superannuation benefit package for those persons to whom the Parliamentary and Holders of Special Offices Act applies and for those other categories of employees catered for by other government pensions and arrangement/plans.
The revised superannuation package, he says, must be sent by the Special Parliamentary Committee for consideration and approval by the National Assembly.
“In this country, men believe that they can break the law and do whatever it is that they like because those who are close to the government have been able to get away with it”- APNU MP Carl Greenidge
The National Assembly will meet tomorrow to debate whether it should approve some $5.7B which
has been expended from the Contingencies Fund during the last quarter of 2011, but despite the opposition believing that the money was utilised illegally, they may have no option but to vote in agreement.
This however does not mean that it will be business as usual for the Government as it relates to the Supplementary Provisions and Finances in General.
Former Finance Minister and Executive Member of A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) Carl Greenidge, in an exclusive interview with this publication, signaled that come Thursday when the issue comes up for debate, the opposition will be pushing a gamut of measures, including police action.
Finance Minister Dr. Ashni Singh on Friday last tabled the Financial Papers and signalled to the Speaker that he would like to have the consideration done this Thursday.
The Opposition will however have to vote for its approval, given the fact that should they vote negatively, the Contingencies Fund will not be able to be replenished to the tune of some $5.7B.
For several years now, the Opposition Parties in the House have been lamenting the manner in which the money is being used.
According to the Auditor General, the Contingencies Fund continues to be abused, with withdrawals that do not fit the criteria for the related disbursements.
Greenidge explained to this publication that the request represents two different categories, namely some for moneys already spent and another to pay for commitments made that were not previously paid for.
He explained that a supplementary provision is simply an additional request for a previous allocation, but stressed that it has to be for an emergency purpose.
Greenidge says that the Finance Minister, when he goes to Parliament, is supposed to explain to the House, in detail, how and why the money was spent, and what the urgency was.
He asserted that a supplementary provision is supposed to be used in unavoidable cases, where if the administration did not make the expenditure, then there would be irreparable damage to the system.
The Former Finance Minister pointed out that the Contingencies Fund operates akin to an impress or petty cash – as float money that can be accessed by the administration providing the requisite criteria are met.
“What the government does is write cheques against a Contingencies Fund. That Contingencies Fund is only supposed to be tapped into in these (urgent or unavoidable) circumstances.”
He reiterated that if there was no previous allocation made, such as for a road programme or capital expenditure such as the purchase of a building – then the administration ought not to be able to make a “draw down” for such expenditure.
“You have to wait until the next year,” Greenidge explained.
He questioned the motivation behind some of the expenditure for which approval is being sought, drawing particular reference to the purchase of ferries.
In the Supplementary Provision sought by Dr Singh, there is expenditure for the Ministry of Public Works and Communication, which received an additional $2.6B in addition to $366M already received for the acquisition of two ferries.
Greenidge explained that the Chinese delivered both of the vessels early, “and yet there is a request for funds to pay.”
He stressed that it is not a case where the Parliament has to approve this expenditure, but he also gave clarity to the issue with respect to its being float money.
Greenidge explained that when moneys are spent from that which is allocated as a float and there is an absence of necessary documentation to show that the money was spent legitimately, “then the float can’t be replenished.”
“The Parliament does not have to approve this expenditure, and could take action which requires that the officials responsible for carrying out the expenditure, if it is deem it illegal, are surcharged.”
The Former Finance Minister explained that a request can be made of the Auditor General to investigate and call in the police.
Greenidge explained that APNU’s position will be to “ensure that the request that is laid before us is consistent with the law.”
He reminded that the law requires that the Minister provide certain information as it relates to the expenditures, as against the traditional vague answers that were provided.
He added that APNU is in talks with the Alliance for Change, and they are in agreement that the gross violations of the laws on the part of the administration must stop.
Greenidge said that in previous years it was not a case where the opposition voted in favour of the numerous Supplementary Provisions sought, but rather, it was a case where the government had a majority in Parliament which would mean that regardless of the concerns raised by the opposition, the Parliament would approve the expenditures.
“The problem has been that the government had a majority and therefore had enough votes for it not to matter what the opposition said.”
He also lamented the confinement of the Auditor General.
“The Office of the Auditor General has essentially been held captive, meaning that where they should properly identify illegality they identify some and leave others…and where action should have been taken against officers, action was not taken.”
This, he said, was the case, as “having persuaded people to break the law, people believed that the presidency can protect them.”
“The officials felt that they could have continued to break the laws forever, but what you see has happened in late 2011 has served to surprise the government.”
Greenidge pointed to the fact that regardless of the fact that the laws have been broken for 20 years by the administration, should the system be tightened, then the same laws can hold officials accountable.
He stressed that as long as the systems in place are tightened, then there is no way those officials can say that they have been doing the same thing for years in an attempt to negate the illegality.
Greenidge is certain that some of the money for which the present request covers needs to be investigated, and he added that “a good deal of it took place around the time of the elections.”
He suggested that the money has been used for other things, saying that “this is a massive amount spent around the election period”.
“All the parties have been complaining. Civil society has been complaining. Even in India there are laws against carrying out expenditures and signing agreements so close to elections. But they (PPP) have gone ahead and done it because they are powerful,” said Greenidge who opined that the ruling administration believed that they would have won the election outright leaving the opposition with little or no recourse.
“Where the law is weak or unclear we want it tightened,” Greenidge emphasized, while stating that the opposition will be pushing for amendments to the relevant pieces of legislation to have Ministers held accountable also.
“In other countries where there are violations on the part of Ministers they resign, but this is not the case in Guyana. In this country, men believe that they can break the law and do whatever it is that they like, because those who are close to the government have been able to get away with it.”
Under the expenditures for which approval will be sought, under the Office of the Prime Minister’s Electrification Programme an additional $491.6M was sought in addition to the more than $6B already allocated.
The Office of the President was also advanced some $25.5M for National and Other Events, and according to the Financial Paper, the money is a provision for expenditure associated with the conferment of National Awards and other events hosted by the State. This is in addition to the $8.7M already allocated to the Office of the President for such expenditures.
At the Office of the Prime Minister, approval is being sought for in excess of $1.5B expenditure in addition to $100M already allocated for Subsidies and Contributions to Local Organization.
The Financial Paper explains that the money is a provision for additional subsidy to the Lethem Power Company ($33.7M) and the Guyana Power and Light ($1.5B) for the purchase of fuel for its continued operations.
The Guyana Police Force is also listed for a range of activities related to the 2011 General and Regional Elections, including $4M to pay the rental for radio sets as well as an additional $90.6M for feeding rural constables who worked on Election Day as well as inline police ranks and intensified patrols.
Alliance For Change Chairman Khemraj Ramjattan is on record as saying “While it is alright for the Government to spend moneys from the Contingencies Fund and then seek approval after, the supplementary provisions that are sought for each year demonstrate the fact that the budget every year is deceitful.”
Assented to by former President Bharrat Jagdeo, the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act stipulates that “The Minister, when introducing a supplementary appropriation Bill, shall present to the National Assembly the reasons for the proposed variations and provide a supplementary document describing the impact that the variations, if approved, will have on the financial plan outlined in the annual budget.”
The Act also stipulates that: The Minister shall not, in any fiscal year, introduce more than five supplementary appropriation Bills under this section, except in circumstances of grave national emergency, where the Minister may introduce a Bill, intituled an emergency appropriation Bill, to meet the situation.”
The Bill to be debated tomorrow represents the seventh and eight requests made by the Finance Minister.
“It was barefaced thieving,”– Ramjattan
The Alliance for Change (AFC) along with the other Parliamentary Opposition party, A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) will be using its combined majority in the National Assembly to seek to push for the investigation, prosecution and subsequent incarceration of Public and Government officials found to have been guilty of corrupt practices and financial irregularities.
AFC Presidential Khemraj Ramjattan said that during the political campaign that his party had committed itself to having corrupt Government officials be held accountable. He said his party will work with APNU to push for some of the Parliamentary Standing Committees to investigate the actions of some of the Public and Government officials.
Ramjattan said that they will be using bodies such as the Economic Services Committee and the Public Accounts Committee among others where they can determine if enough evidence exists to have these persons prosecuted and should the Director of Public Prosecution Shalimar Ali-Hack fail to act in the face of evidence then private action will be taken against her as well.
Ramjattan said that one of the many issues that the parliamentary opposition would want to re-open is a proper investigation into the Colonial Life Insurance Company (CLICO Guyana) fallout.
Ramjattan is on record and was also upbraided by the Parliamentary Committee which was tasked with investigating the fallout but was later rendered useless according to him as they were only watered down to reading newspaper headlines of the fallout.
Ramjattan was upbraided by the then Committee Chairperson for speaking to the media at the time for venting his frustration at the role to which the committee was downgraded.
He said that there will also be an investigation into the transfer of the assets of Sanata Complex, Ruimveldt, to the present owners. Many of the actions leading to the transfer of the assets to Queens Atlantic International Inc. (QAII) are not clear.
Ramjattan spoke, too, of the matter involving the re-appointed Minister of Housing and Water Irfaan Ali against whom a prima facie case was made out for contempt of Parliament in relation to misleading the National Assembly on a $4B allocation.
That matter was never heard and according to Ramjattan died a slow death as the Ninth Parliament was dissolved thereby making it next to impossible to have the matter heard again.
Ramjattan posited that the parliamentarians in the opposition benches must also use their majority in the House to impress upon the populace that importance of and nexus between their impoverished state and its direct link to corruption.
He said that it is of paramount importance that the populace and electorate at large understand the link between their poverty and corruption.
Ramjattan was also adamant that they will be taking the Director of Public Prosecution Shalimar Ali-Hack to task for not undertaking criminal proceedings against public officials where there is enough evidence.
On Friday last the world observed World Anti-Corruption Day and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon had advocated for the corrupt officials to be shamed. Ramjattan is adamant that they should be jailed.
During the Anti-Corruption seminar the Senior Coordinator of Transparency International, Zoe Reiter, had admonished that anti-corruption laws are meaningless if there is no enforcement.
Reiter when she made the pronouncement was at the time responding to Government Adviser Gail Teixeira, who was seeking clarification as to why some of the countries in the Region scored better than Guyana on the 2011 World Corruption Perception Index.
Guyana ranked 134 out of 183 countries analysed in the world by Transparency International and scored 2.5 out of 10 with zero being the worst.
Corruption continues to plague too many countries around the world, according to Transparency International’s 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index on December 1.
“It shows some governments failing to protect citizens from corruption, be it abuse of public resources, bribery or secretive decision-making.”
Transparency International warned that protests around the world, often fuelled by corruption and economic instability, clearly show citizens feel their leaders and public institutions are neither transparent nor accountable enough.
“This year we have seen corruption on protestors’ banners be they rich or poor. Whether in a Europe hit by debt crisis or an Arab world starting a new political era, leaders must heed the demands for better government,” said Huguette Labelle, Chair of Transparency International.
Reiter in her recent presentation did caution that making significant inroads in the fight against corruption will take time and advised that corruption is a non-partisan problem that will require non-partisan solutions.
She cautioned, also, that corruption was at the root of all of the major upheavals across the world in 2011.
Reiter added, “Government cannot tackle corruption with symbolic gestures.”
Varshnie Singh entitled to First Lady’s pension
NOVEMBER 13, 2011 | BY KNEWS | FILED UNDER NEWS
Pull Quote… “If this is the disdain with which Jagdeo and Nanda Gopaul of the Office of the President would treat her, how would they treat the ordinary Guyanese woman?” Ramjattan
The woman who was presented to the nation and world leaders as Guyana’s First Lady for eight years is entitled to a pension as is the case with the widows– Doreen Chung, Joyce Hoyte and Janet Jagan.
AFC Presidential Candidate Khemraj Ramjattan
This is according to Alliance for Change Presidential Candidate, Khemraj Ramjattan, who said that according to Hindu rites Varshnie and President Bharrat Jagdeo were married and that the registration was merely a formality to conform with the local laws.
“If she was my sister I would have gone up to him and put a good cut ass on him,” Ramjattan said, adding that it is the thing for a Hindu brother to do.
Ramjattan added, “If this is the disdain with which Jagdeo and Nanda Gopaul of the Office of the President would treat Varshnie, how would they treat the ordinary Guyanese woman?”
Dr Nanda Gopaul, the Permanent Secretary, in the Office of the President on Friday evening had released the names of the First Ladies who had received pensions and how much.
According to Ramjattan, even if one were to look at the amended marriage laws then it would be clear that even in a common-law relationship where a couple lives together for a period of more than five years then the woman is entitled to some benefits.
He said that Varshnie Singh was recognized as the Guyana’s First Lady for several years and as such should be entitled to a First Lady’s pension.
Gopaul had released the salaries received by Former Presidents and First Ladies amidst swirling controversy over the pension package Mr Bharrat Jagdeo will receive when he demits office following the November 28 polls.
However, the list omitted Varshnie Singh, who served as First Lady while married to Jagdeo. Jagdeo became President in 1999; the couple separated in 2007. Ms Singh, who has since adopted her maiden name, said the marriage was not registered.
In addition, the list released by the Office of the President also omits Mrs Yvonne Hinds, the wife of Prime Minister Samuel Hinds who served as First Lady from March-December, 1997 when he served as President.
The list states that in December 3, 2004, Mrs. Joyce Hoyte (wife of former President Desmond Hoyte), received $87,143. Following the passage of the Former Presidents (Benefits and Other Facilities) Act Mrs. Hoyte received $347,395 from 2006. In 2007, she received $378,660; in 2008, $489,468; and in November 2010, she got $543,543.
The Office of the President said Mrs. Janet Jagan received $125,867 per month in 2000. From October 1, 2006 she received $729,529 per month. In addition, the Office of the President said she received a salary of $137, 938 in March 2009 as legislator, and ex-president $876,692.
Former President Arthur Chung received, from October 1, 2006 $729,529 per month, with the last amount being paid in June 2008 to the tune of $1,085,427 per month.
His widow, Mrs Chung, received a widow’s pension of $542,714 up to August 2009, the Office of the President said.
The Office added that they were also entitled to motor vehicles and drivers, a gardener, payment of utility bills (electricity/telephone/water), payment for security at their residence or the provision of security personnel, payment of maids, payment for m
edical expenditures, payment of an Annual Vacation Allowance for Ex-President
President Bharrat Jagdeo and Varshnie on their wedding day July 26, 1998
and Spouse, and duty-free concession for motor vehicles.
My letter is of particular importance for consideration by my Guyanese sisters and brothers. I am fully aware that the Alliance for Change (AFC) is making remarkable progress in getting its message across to the Guyanese people and in particular, to the young people who would be voting for the first time and whose votes would be the deciding factor in the upcoming elections.
Given all the brilliant minds that Guyana has produced, why is it that we remain a lost people in search of a new home, mainly in North America. The answer is very simple, we have not had the right leadership prior to and following Independence. We have had good leaders in the past but unfortunately they were preoccupied with self interest. Hence, they divided the country racially and no serious attempt has been made by anyone subsequently to heal this division between the various race groups resulting in Guyana maintaining its status as a backward country with backward leaders.
Mr. Jagdeo as a young man had the golden opportunity of succeeding in bringing the people together to develop this country following the last election as he was not part of the destructive elements of the past but he failed miserably and would go down in history as the worst leader in Guyana’s history. Dr. Jagan was an honorable man and certainly not a dictator. Mr. Jagdeo grew up during Mr. Burnham’s reign and hence, he has been emulating some of the negative attributes of Forbes Burnham. Unfortunately, Mr. Jagdeo is politically naïve and devoid of Mr. Burnham’s intellect. Mr. Jagdeo is very good at ‘cussing out’ and trying to humiliate Guyanese. He truly lacks the dignity of a President.
We must remember that the PPP/C did not win the election in 1992; the PNC lost that election as we wanted change, given the atrocities of the PNC. The fall of the Berlin Wall had a cascading effect and the US decided to do the honorable thing and facilitated free and fair elections. Because of Dr. Jagan’s inviting personality Guyana had the glorious opportunity of rising from the dead but he was aging and did not have the strength to satisfy the needs of Guyana. The intellectual minds that supported him in the 60’s had disappeared to other shores, namely Balram Singh Rai, Sir Fenton Ramsahoye and others who were not communists. He was then stuck with the bankrupt and corrupt intellect of the cabal in Freedom House.
I certainly remember when it took over two hours to travel by road to the Cheddi Jagan Airport from Georgetown because of the poor state of the road, so there has been some progress made since 1992 but the corruption under the Jagdeo’s presidency is unprecedented and phenomenal. Look at the economic well-being of the Jagdeo clan and judge for yourselves. I recall when one minister was a taxi driver just before he was adopted by the PPP/C and take a careful look at what he owns now. He has now left his party and joined the PPP/C’s cabal. Open your eyes and look at the homes in Pradoville 1, and in particular, the first one on the right painted blue. Look at the mansion that Mr. Jagdeo is building at Pradoville 2. Calculate the cost of erecting such a building against his salary as President. We are not all as gullible as you think Mr. President.
Donald Ramotar said that he will follow the policies of Jagdeo. So where are we really going? The retention of Sam Hinds is only temporary. Sam Hinds will resign shortly and Robert Persaud or Jagdeo will become Prime Minister. Jagdeo will not let go of power easily and hence, he did not want Ralph Ramkarran or Moses Nagamootoo as the presidential candidate as they have minds of their own and he would not be able to manipulate these two gentlemen. Donald Ramotar and the others will do as Jagdeo says as they lack the intellect to think for themselves. Wake up Guyana.
Some of us cannot think outside of the box of the PPP/C and PNC (APNU). We need to put Guyana first and foremost in our minds. The AFC has honest and capable leaders without criminal pasts and is the best option for Guyana. The names of Khemraj Ramjattan, Raphael Trotman, Moses Nagamootoo, Cathy Hughes etc; certainly give me hope for the future of Guyana and all Guyanese. It is the only political party in the upcoming elections without a negative past. Our young people need jobs so vote for change. It is important to mention that I am not a member of any political party but Guyana is my home.
A Concerned Guyanese