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|Opposition has no issue with former president’s pension - more obsessed with his personal property|
|Monday, 03 September 2012 23:20|
THE Parliamentary Opposition was given the opportunity to have the issue of the former president’s benefit package cleared up, but when the debate on the issue was held on Sunday evening, the Alliance For Change (AFC) was more obsessed with how the former president acquired his real estate instead of debating the pension package.
The debate aired on the National Communications Network (NCN) was the fourth in the series and saw the A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) staying away again. It was that party that took to the National Assembly a motion in August to review the benefits and facilities of the former president.
Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall, Minister of Labour, Dr. Nanda Gopaul, Civil Society Representative/ Guyana Labour Union President, Carvil Duncan, Chief Labour Officer, Charles Ogle and AFC Chairman, Nigel Hughes participated in the exercise.
AFC’s questioned the means by which the former president acquired his current property, alleging that he was only offered the opportunity to acquire the state owned land for this property and another at below market prices because of the office and status he then held.
Minister Nandlall noted that the presidential pension package was a pertinent issue which the public needed to be informed about, since the parliamentary opposition before and after the recently concluded general elections continued to peddle misinformation. He therefore welcomed the opportunity to set the record straight.
The Attorney General, addressing the issue of the former president’s acquisition of the land, said that he acquired the first house lot when he was Finance Minister by the same process through which thousands of Guyanese got theirs.
Minister Nandlall said that the difference between former President Jagdeo and any other president in this country was that he assumed office in his early thirties, and had no property at the time. Every other president, including Presidents Forbes Burnham, Desmond Hoyte, and the Jagans (Cheddi and Janet) owned property at the time when they took office.
The minister said that Jagdeo was at the time earning a tax free salary of close to $1M and was able to build a house he could afford.
As it relates to the acquisition of the other land, Minister Nandlall stated that lands in that area were targeted for persons of a particular category of office holders, within which the president fell. The same procedure which was used to sell and allocate land to the other persons in that area was used in respect of President Jagdeo’s land.
The minister said that for Hughes to give the impression that the president embarked on this conquest and acquired land in an improper way and improper procedure is one that must be wholly rejected.
Labour Minister, Dr Nanda Gopaul stressed that there was no objection to parliamentary pension packages approved for presidential widows that is Doreen Chung, Viola Burnham and Janet Jagan. He added that the pension package must also be seen in the context of the seven- eighths pension scheme which all former members of parliament, senior government officials and even the former opposition leader benefitted from.
Dr Gopaul added that while former President Jagdeo's finances are on public record via the Office of the Integrity Commission, those of the opposition leaders were not.
Claims by the AFC Chairman that the former president's acquisition of prime real estate was unethical were rebutted by the Attorney General and the Labour Minister, who noted that contrary to opposition opinions, lands were offered to persons within a particular sector of society at prices consistent with government’s policy. This policy, formulated by the Housing Ministry, has also resulted in many Guyanese acquiring lands for housing at very affordable costs, throughout Guyana.
In closing, the Attorney General added that the president's pension package was merely passed in 2009 to formalise an existing policy and to codify and statutorise the benefits and facilities which have been enjoyed by every past president upon their retirement.
He explained that this was done so that future generations will know with certainty what a president is entitled to upon retirement, and this entitlement will not be at the whims and fancies of any administration.
Minister Nandlall contended that when one examines the type of benefits and facilities a past president enjoys, one sees striking similarities with that which the leader of the opposition enjoys in terms of free electricity, phone bills, medical treatment, domestic staff, office staff, and duty free exemptions for motor vehicles, among others.
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