Nov 27, 2016 Features / Columnists, Adam Harris My Column


I rarely worry about the duplicity of people who profess to be democratic and calling for equality for all. In my lifetime I have seen many of them hobnobbing in the wake of the late Forbes Burnham although privately they abused him. Some were even brash enough to approach him for personal favours.

These people professed a dislike for the People’s National Congress and it was only years later that I realized that politics had precious little to do with their dislike. I make bold to say that racism was at the root of the dislike.
Burnham died and the late Desmond Hoyte reversed many of his policies, wringing praise from these critics, but the dislike for the party remained. Many contended that the dislike was a carryover from the Burnham years and had tainted those who served with Burnham. The euphoria that followed the Cheddi Jagan victory in 1992 could be understood.
I hear a lot of talk about witch-hunt and discrimination. The now opposition People’s Progressive Party is in the forefront. Sadly, I did not hear such talk during the tenure of the PPP when many skilled people were discarded. Some went to their graves without getting benefits due to them because the PPP was vengeful.
And so I come to see the opposition to former Prime Minister Hamilton Green being granted a pension deserving of someone who served in one of the highest offices in the land. The pension Bill before the National Assembly has drawn criticisms from people who claim to champion human rights. Even a group I support, Conservational International, has come out against the Bill, talking about the government favouring its own.
The Prime Ministers in Guyana, excluding Forbes Burnham, were Ptolemy Reid, Desmond Hoyte, Hamilton Green, Moses Nagamootoo and Samuel Hinds. Of the lot, only three are alive today and one of them, Samuel Hinds, is enjoying a presidential pension. The other is still holding the office.
One argument against Hamilton Green being given the pension is rooted in the fact that he did not work for the money paid to the Prime Minister today. That is true. Samuel Hinds did not work for the money paid to the president today. He served as Prime Minister for a few months in 1997, but he is enjoying the same pension that Bharrat Jagdeo and Donald Ramotar are getting.
And it should be noted that he will always get seven-eighths of whatever the serving president is getting for the rest of his natural life.
The Guyana Human Rights Association took pains to describe Hamilton Green as one who oppressed the people and failed to serve in their interest. Nowhere in the law is anyone barred from a pension because of his perceived indiscretions.
Bharrat Jagdeo was tainted with the death of some 400 Black youths, blatant discrimination against one section of the society, including the very Guyana Human Rights Association and Conservation International, but that never surfaced when it was time to debate his pension.
Jagdeo did so much more. He blatantly allocated radio frequencies to his friends and supporters to the exclusion of those who openly opposed him. His People’s Progressive Party is a major beneficiary; the People’s National Congress and the other political parties are not.
Yet these facts did not mitigate against him getting the former president’s pension.
When the Former Presidents Pension Bill was passed there was an anomaly. No retired public servant receives a graduated pension—one that climbs with the salary of present-day public servants. Former President Jagdeo also receives seven-eighths of the pension of the serving president. A retired public servant receives a maximum of two-thirds of his salary as a pension. These facts did not form part of the criticism of Jagdeo’s pension Bill.
I am not certain whether the same brouhaha would have been there had the Bill not been misnamed, although I am certain a shrewd politician like Bharrat Jagdeo would have made the point and even named the Bill after Hamilton Green.
I see nothing wrong with a former Prime Minister’s pension. I see a lot wrong with the people criticizing it. Dislike for Hamilton Green should have nothing to do with his pension. Jagdeo, at a recent press conference contended that Green should be content with the pension he gets as a member of the National Assembly. I do not believe that this pension is graduated like Jagdeo’s.
And there is more. Jagdeo also sat as a member of the National Assembly. Why did he not settle for that pension? If the argument is that he served as president then the argument for the Prime Minister’s pension is that he too was elevated to the office of Prime Minister.
Someone even pointed to the pension that Barack Obama would get when he demits office. I am certain that because of inflation and the different salary rates, his pension would be greater than Jimmy Carter and George Bush’s. The story is different in Guyana and there is a reason for this. Bharrat Jagdeo set his pension so that he would always receive the maximum possible. Hinds and Ramotar are the beneficiaries of Jagdeo’s plan.
I happened to be discussing this very issue with the staff of Kaieteur News one day and I could not help but conclude that the noisy opposition to Hamilton Green’s pension was due more to racial considerations that any other factor.