Guyana’s major opposition coalition has withdrawn a court case challenging a hefty pension package for Bharrat Jagdeo, to allow the Caribbean Community nation’s parliament the privilege of chopping the former president’s remuneration to a more reasonable sum; but the work of the opposition could be stymied in the long run if Jagdeo’s successor refuses to assent to the bill, making it law as is widely expected.
Filed earlier this year in the name of opposition legislator Desmond Trotman, of A Partnership For National Unity (APNU), Trotman’s lawyer Christopher Ram filed papers withdrawing the court writ, after parliamentary Speaker Raphael Trotman ruled during debate last week that the House could not debate the pension package while matter is in the court.
Oposition parties APNU and the Alliance For Change (AFC) have a one-seat majority in the 65-seat assembly and have vowed to cut Jagdeo’s pension package worth $15,000 a month, to just over a third of that amount, saying that at age 48, Jagdeo is able-bodied and has a long work life and earning possibilities ahead of him. Both had made the issue major campaign themes, and are under pressure to deliver, given public abhorrence to the bill.
The PPP had used its simple majority in the last parliament to approve the humungous pension for Jagdeo, but legislators remind constituents that the shoe is now on the other foot.
Debate on the APNU motion was suspended until the house meets again on May 30, by which time the court case would have been withdrawn, allowing for debate of Jagdeo’s controversial package, which includes tax-free salary plus benefits. However, Donald Ramotar who succeeded Jagdeo as president and is as well from the East Indian-dominated governing party, has to assent to any amended bill to make it law.
The party has already signaled in the negative. Trotman said that if he fails to sign, the bill will be returned to the house for a two-thirds vote, meaning it will never become law, as government legislators won’t back the opposition.
“Therefore I will have to go back to the court for a ruling as parliament would be tied up,” said constitutional expert Raymond Gaskin.
Public anger at the remuneration package is directly linked to the widespread belief that the former head of state is already well off and is widely believed to have a hand in several businesses run by close associates; charges that he has denied. Critics have identified EZ Jet as one, but its front owners so Jagdeo is not linked.
Additionally, old-age pension payment to retirees after age 65 was recently moved up to a mere $50, barely a $10 monthly increase on the insistence of the APNU.
A government clerk earns an average of $250 monthly, barely enough to rent a small apartment.