Private members Motion3276 02 Aug, 2012
Mr. Ramjattan: I was a young student of Ho Chi Minh when there was talk by that side, and the senior members, that there must be…Especially, I can recall Ms. Gail Teixeira, Hon. Member, talking about revolutionary morality to all of us, and, of course, the good Clement Rohee, Hon. Minister, in inverted commas, at this stage. We will be making a determination of that later. They talked to us at Acabec; they talked to us at ranging conferences, that we must do that which is called giving the ultimate sacrifice, if that needs to be done, and also, not to do anything necessarily expecting high wages and salaries, and all of that. [An Hon. Member (Opposition): They were out of power.] They were out of power. My history also tells me that when Odinga is talking about those days… [Interruption]
Mr. Speaker: It is the Hon. Member Mr. Lumumba.
Mr. Ramjattan: The Hon. Member Mr. Lumumba… [Ms. Shadick: What is good for one side must be good for the other.] That is right; I agree. He was talking then about how bad times were. He was one of the chief protagonists of what was happening in those days.
Mr. Speaker, if I may just get back to the motion. I want it to be stated clearly, in rebuttal to what the learned Attorney General said just now, that there is an article in this Constitution which states that that we can bring motions of this sort to ensure that we revise and review any matter that we want. Article 171 (1) states:
“Subject to the provisions of this Constitution…”
This article was a major point of issue in the recent court matter.
“…and the rules of procedure of this National Assembly, any Member of the Assembly may introduce any Bill or propose any motion for debate in, or may present any petition to, the Assembly and the same shall be debated or disposed of according to the rules of procedure of the Assembly.”
What we have here is that which can be the process through which we can have a debate in the Special Select Committee as to what it is, will be a proper pension, what it is, will be proper facilities, and other benefits, not only for the President but, as it was expanded in the motion, to other Members who also come under the category of emoluments, including the Leader of the Opposition, the Prime Minister and so many other persons.
Because we never had that debate and deliberation, this motion is seeking now, in this Parliament, the Tenth Parliament, to have it, and to have it in what is called a deliberative atmosphere, checking out what are the international standards, such as in the United States of America, the wealthiest country in the world, which still has caps; it still has administrative arrangements. It cannot be overboard and over the ceiling. Go to the Caribbean and see what the Jamaican President gets, see what the Trinidadian President and Prime Minister get. We can come, as the Bill indicated before, and everybody has dignified retirement, knowing very well what the capacity of the Guyana economy is to support that state of dignity. That is all that it is.
The learned Attorney General did not indicate to us which Constitution provision we are breaching when we bring a motion, nor which Standing Order. He said it has never happened. The novelty of a motion here does nothing to affect it validity. If we were to go and say that because it has never been done before and we must not do it, there would not have been a man who went to the moon, today. Some congressman told Mr. Kennedy, “Where are you going? Nobody has gone there.” But they went after all. The description of the Attorney General, as very conservative, all of a sudden, is, indeed, a very honest description and it is not what is going to get us places. As against what used to be a dispensation of simply accepting what the Government would like to see, we are merely asking the Government, and let it be magnanimous, to set up a Special Select Committee and let us deal with these matters. [Mr. Nandlall: It is faulty procedure.] There is absolutely no fault in any procedure here. I have just read from the Constitution. Any Member can bring a motion. The motion is asking that the matter be sent to a Special Select Committee – a subset of this larger National Assembly. [Mr. G. Persaud: It says Bill or motion.] It says Bill and or motion. We can create legislation out of Special Select Committees. Who says we cannot do that? We have done it several times before.
Let me say this: This motion also came about after I had indicated in the national press that I was going to bring a Bill to repeal the Former President’s (Benefits and Other Facilities) Act. I did that in this context of appreciating that all of these things listed in the President’s (Benefits and Other Facilities) Bill were uncapped and, as a matter of fact, was costing the Government and the people of Guyana too much money.
That is why, in the campaign, we made it a big deal. The President’s pension, facilities and other benefits were $3 million a month and it was well received. That is why there is a dispensation that puts the Government in the minority. I am certain that it is because of that one campaign issue which helped to contribute to that. We have an obligation now, that since we carried that as our line then, we should talk about it. Instead of ensuring now that a better deal is made, in a sense, that rather than repeal the whole thing, we ask that it goes to a Special Select Committee, the Government Members have now indicated that it is wrong procedure - it is unconstitutional. Well, it is not. It can be done by this motion and we are saying that this motion should be supported.
I want to make another point and it has to do with what it is specifically that we are talking about here, especially in the first resolve clause. Remember, there is a Pensions (President) Act which was passed in 2004. The Pensions (President) Act is not being sought to be, in any way, repealed or amended. What this motion is talking about… [Mr. Nandlall: Like you did not read the motion.] I will read it again for you because apparently you did not read it.
“AND WHEREAS the provisions of the 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,
BE IT RESOLVED:
That this National Assembly immediately takes steps to have the aforementioned mentioned legislation repealed without prejudice, however, to the payment of benefits;”
I want it to be understood that the President’s pension, by virtue of the constitutional provision talked about by the Hon. Attorney General, is captured as an enshrined right. His pension cannot be touched. We agree with that. [Mr. Nandlall: Look at the next clause.] Hold on Mr. Attorney General. We are saying that because of that article in the Constitution, which states that superannuation benefits are an entitlement and a property, and property rights are enshrined, we cannot go there, but these other facilities and benefits are not pensions. They are an Act that came into being in 2009 and sought to make the President of Guyana, since he was not going to have a third term, to get some additional benefits. It was not part of any gratuity. That is the point I wish to make here: that this resolve clause speaks directly to a repeal of that. However, during the course of the repeal…
Mr. Hinds: M r. Speaker, I thought I heard a statement from the Hon. Member Mr. Ramjattan which seems to impugn ulterior motives to the 2009 legislation which was brought. I think that, also, it was a reference to a past President who is not here to defend himself. I think on those counts that statement should be withdrawn, Sir.
Mr. Ramjattan: I am not going to withdraw any statement. I did not impugn anybody.
Mr. Speaker: The Standing Orders speak to any statement that impugns or seeks to imply improper motive on the part of any Member of the House. However, to the extent that indeed some Members were…Was it tabled in your name, Hon. Prime Minister?
Mr. Ramjattan is referring to what transpired in the Ninth Parliament, but I take cognizance of the fact that the Bill was piloted in the name of the Hon. Prime Minister who remains and continues as Prime Minister. We would expect that the House passed legislation which was proper. Let us move away from imputing improper motives, or ulterior, illegal or unconstitutional.
Mr. Ramjattan: If I did say anything wrong I would like to state now that I am maintaining that it was indeed a Bill that was passed to give other benefits and facilities to a President who was already getting a pension. That is what it was. I am not saying that is a neutral statement. That is what I said just now.
Hon. Members (Government): No.
Mr. Ramjattan: If I said it otherwise, I am restating it as I just mentioned.
Mr. Hinds: Mr. Speaker, I think it was also said there that this was brought, seeing that the President of the day was making arrangements, seeing that he would not have been coming back again for a third term.
Mr. Ramjattan: If that is offensive to you, Sir, I withdraw it.
Mr. Hinds: I will accept the withdrawal.
Mr. Speaker: Let me say this, that there is nothing improper for a Government to make provisions for its Members who are demitting office or otherwise. If, on the other hands, it is done in such a way that laws were flouted or it was done on the backs of people, it is a different matter. It is not improper to take care of persons who are demitting office, and that is the argument that Dr. Roopnarine was making, but it is to what extent.
The Government should not be made to feel ashamed for putting things in place for a former President ipso facto, but it is the extent to which - that is the argument of Dr. Roopnarine and even Mr. Greenidge - it goes. We are tending to become or wanting to become a democratic state with decent norms and practices.
Mr. Ramjattan: It is important to understand that what this motion is seeking is clearly getting at the 2009 Act in which additional benefits and facilities, which do not constitute a constitutional right…It was by a simple majority it was passed in the Ninth Parliament. If today we feel that there is going to be the need to, at least, repeal or amend it, we can so do. This Parliament, the Tenth Parliament, that is, can undo that which occurred in the Ninth Parliament once it is not going to breach any Constitution. We have seen that being done by this same Government. Remember, there was something called the Elections (Amendment) Law which had to do with scutineers’ payment. It went to the court and it was held unconstitutional. It was Everall Franklin and David Patterson vs. The Attorney General and the Guyana Elections Commission. It was held to be unconstitutional. In the face of the unconstitutionality by the Court of Appeal, that Government, there, passed a law overruling the Court of Appeal, then the highest court in the land. The Government loves to talk about the Teemal’s case, but it also created a precedent when it overruled Everall Franklin and David Patterson vs. The Attorney General and the Guyana Elections Commission. That is what it did. It must not give the impression that it is holier-than-thou and the precedent was only set with the PNC in the Teemal’s case.
The other resolve clauses are indicating that this whole issue should be determined by a parliamentary committee. The other resolve clause is asking that this special parliamentary committee submits, as a matter of urgency, a revised superannuation benefit package for all those persons who come under the article. For all it is known, there could very well be an increase. The judges’ superannuation benefits could very well be increased; the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP)’s could very well be increased because she is not getting so much of whatever. It could very well be what it is as against other countries’ DPP, judges and all those categories of officers coming under the President, Parliamentary and Special Officers Act and the Parliamentary Holders of Special Officers Act. That has never been done. There is,what is called, certain methodology…
Mr. Speaker: Mr. Ramjattan, just for my edification, does this motion address Members of Parliament as well?
Mr. Ramjattan: It does because that category also has... I think the article also includes…
Mr. Speaker: I think we should welcome…If it does not, it should, because Members of Parliament need to have their packages reexamined.
Mr. Ramjattan: It would very well be included.
Mr. Speaker: If it does not, I am advocating that it be included to ensure that Members of Parliament are taken care of.
Mr. Ramjattan: Even the final resolve clause is asking that this revised superannuation package…
What the argument of the mover of the motion is, as I asked him about it, whereas the pension of the President is seventh-eight of the existing President’s salary that is not the case when it comes to those other office holders. It is not seventh-eight of the existing judge’s salary. There can be a judge, who is still living, but who retired in 1970, or a Prime Minister, and his or her money is not referable or attached to the existing Prime Minister’s salary. Although the person is a past Prime Minister, he or she is getting a pittance. The last Parliament made sure that from 2009 those Presidents, who came out of office, such as Mr. Jagdeo, would have an attach to an existing President…
If Mr. Ramotar’s salary is raised to $2 million, he will get seventh-eight of $2 million. That is the discrimination that the motion is getting at, by setting it back to a Special Select Committee, so that those other office holders can live with some dignity and comfort. What is wrong with taking care of our older, elder statesmen? The Government wants to selectively do it. That is what is being said here and we, in the Alliance For Change, is supporting. [Mr. Nandlall: You did not speak to the second resolve clause.] I have already spoken to that. If you have not listened because you want to heckle, then you can go right ahead.
The AFC is going to support this. It constitutes what we all should have in this House as a very magnanimous method of coming around to dealing with this question of not only the President’s pensions and the President’s benefits and other facilities. That has carried the President into a category right up in to the air. Very big pensions and salaries he will get. A lot of other people, however, will remain…
We also want to make the point that in the context of such poor pittances for ordinary workers…The thing is damning when workers cannot get anything as what the past President now gets. That is sickening coming from a working class Government that taught us about revolutionary morality and the sacrifices that one has to make. Twenty-five years after, it has forgotten about those things. Everything has gone through the door now. The Government Members want super salaries; they want to pay salaries to people who do not work at the Office of the President. All manner of things are happening now.
Freedom House staff are on the pay packet of Office of the President and all of that, and these people, now, are saying that we should not have a deliberation in some Special Select Committee, speaking about international practices that would make the thing reasonable.
It is a motion that ought to be supported.
Thank you very much. [Applause]
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