Peeping Tom: A story appeared many years ago in our local newspapers about a former West Indian fast bowler standing outside of Sabina Park, Jamaica, begging fans for some “small change” so that he could go and see the regional team in action. It is always a sad scene when someone who has served their country or region with distinction is reduced to such a state of destitution that they have to beg just to be able to see a cricket game.When these very individuals were in their prime, there would have been hundreds of thousands of persons willing to buy them a soft drink. They just had to ask, but when the glory fades and the bright lights dim, those individuals are bypassed.
Many years ago, a letter writer commented on the fact that some judicial officers, after they would have retired, were forced because of economic circumstances to go and work as lawyers and barristers, just in order to earn their keep. Imagine, one day you are a judge sitting high and mighty on the throne of justice, and the next thing you know you are forced to stand as a representative in front of a judge. This is something that should be encouraged, though most retired judicial officers these days earn a healthy enough pension not to ever have to work again. Some still do, just to keep active and because they are really lovers of the law and wish to practice, often offering their services free.
Not so long ago, a retired Commissioner of Police was forced to complain about the failure of the organization he once headed to follow up on a report he had made. He was deeply distressed about the matter. In his time, that sort of disrespect would not have been shown to a former head.
There are many people who serve our country in high office who, when they retire or leave office, are ignored and forgotten. Many of them in the past have had to subsist in pensions which over time could not take care of even their basic needs. This is a sad situation.
No country should ever allow its leaders and prominent officials of State to find themselves in this situation, and when it comes to former Presidents, we should take care of them.
A President holds the executive authority of a nation. He is the face that the outside world sees. No country should treat its President badly. And when that President retires or leaves office, he or she should be afforded a pension and other benefits befitting that of persons of standing in the society.
A country that cannot take care of its former leaders is a country that is unworthy of being respected internationally. Do you believe that for all the political differences between the present government of Trinidad and Tobago and the former Prime Minister of that country, that they would not ensure that as a former Prime Minister he does not receive adequate benefits and a pension?
So why it is that there is all this ruckus about the pension benefits for former Presidents of Guyana?
While the problem with the legislation providing these benefits is that for some of the benefits the limits are unspecified, there is absolutely nothing wrong with what it makes provision for.
What do the critics want? Are they allowing their hatred for President Jagdeo from obscuring the bigger picture, which is that every country has a special, not ordinary, obligation to take care of its former leaders?
How would Guyana look if a sitting Prime Minister who would have worked with President Jagdeo comes to Guyana and wants to visit the former President of this country, only to learn that his circumstances are not of the best because there was a public outcry over his pension and benefits, and a decision was taken that he should only be paid a small stipend.
A country has to take care of its leaders, all of them, past and present, because this is the image that the world sees and from which they will judge a country.
The question is not what a reasonable pension is. The question is, what is a reasonable salary, because pensions are usually some percentage or fraction of a salary. There are corporate executives in this country that are taking home seven-figure salaries each month in Guyana. In fact there may be public officials doing the same in Guyana. So why should a sitting President not receive a seven-figure salary.
Some presidents will only serve one term and therefore they may not be able to set aside much for their retirement from this. They have to deal with all the stress, burdens and responsibilities of running a country and it is unfair to not pay them a generous salary.
This is why, perhaps, the figure of seven-eighths of the salary was arrived at. It is not as if they would have worked forty-odd years and then left office. There are term limits, and some of them would only see one term. So seven-eighths of their salary is fair for a pension, because the most any president would have served would be eight years.
And what is wrong with providing transportation benefits and domestic help and administrative staff as part of the pension benefits? Come on folks! Why would anyone want to deny a former President of a country these basic benefits?
What do the critics want? Do they want to humiliate the former president by forcing him or her to have to take a “special hire” whenever he or she wants to go somewhere? Is it too much to pay domestic help? Is this how a nation treats its highest office holder, by squabbling over pension benefits?
Is this how petty and vicious we are that we seek to bring down those who have occupied the highest office in the land? Shame on those critics!