This is a review of The Former Presidents Bill which is to be tabled today 2nd November 2023 at the Gambia’s National Assembly through a certificate of urgency from the President. The Bill seeks “to establish an office of former President, and to provide for pensions, gratuities and other benefits“. According to the review of the Bill by Civil Society Organisation Leader Madi Jobarteh recommends that “The Government should not provide residence for a former president because he is now a private citizen” and also not benefit from a yearly vacation amongst others.
The review also proposes that “A president who is removed through impeachment or found by a court or a commission of inquiry to have committed abuse of office, human rights violations, and corruption while in office shall not be eligible to benefit from this bill“.
By Madi Jobarteh
All workers have a right to enjoy pension and other benefits when they leave office. The president is no exception. The Former President’s Bill 2023 is therefore necessary to determine the pensions and benefits that a former president should enjoy. The enjoyment of these privileges must be conceived in terms of worker’s rights and not as an incentive or motivation for sitting presidents to be willing to leave office as the aims and objects of the bill is putting forward.
The Constitution of the Gambia set the term of office of a president at five years. It has provided multiple reasons for a sitting president to vacate office peacefully among which includes election. Hence it is expected that a sitting president will uphold and abide by the Constitution to leave office peacefully by any of the reasons set out in the Constitution. There is no need for compulsion or appeasement for a sitting president to leave office, peacefully. It is unconstitutional for a sitting president to reject elections or refuse to leave office given all the legal channels available to ensure redress.
Finally, it must be noted that the Gambian president is paid an annual income of three million dalasi (D3,000,000) as of October 2023. Hence this figure is bound to rise with time. The president does not pay taxes, nor does he pay for accommodation, clothing, food, internet, telephone, healthcare, security, and general upkeep. These are paid by the taxpayers. With these huge benefits, the Former President Bill 2023 and NAMs should therefore bear these issues in mind in order to make the bill relevant and reasonable that provides an ethical, legal and affordable pension and benefits to a former president.
Section 4: Pensions
The Government shall pay a former President for the rest of his or her life a monthly pension payable in arrears of an amount equal to the monthly salary of a serving President.
Proposal: A pension is not the same as a salary. A salary is paid to someone actively serving. Hence to pay a former president the full salary of a serving president is illegal and unjustified. My proposal is that the pension of a former president should be either a percentage of his salary or a salary equal to the salary of a sitting cabinet minister.
Section 5: Gratuity of a former president
… shall pay a former President a non-taxable lump sum gratuity in a sum equal to six months of his or her gross salary last received whilst in office, and such gratuity shall be paid to him or her only once.
Proposal: Gratuity for former president should be at the same standard as a Minister or a NAM, i.e., 25% of gross salary. Given the pension proposed for a former president and the high amount of the president’s salary which currently stands at D3M/annum, it is unjustified to pay a former president a total of 6 months of last salary as gratuity.
Section 6: Accommodation and personnel of a former President
(1) A former President shall be provided with a fully furnished residence, including utilities and other facilities for his or her comfort.
Proposal: The Government should not provide residence for a former president because he is now a private citizen. Such a residence may accommodate other family members, friends, and others for which the Government should not be responsible for their accommodation and upkeep. Where the former president and spouse and children under 18 are not living in that residence anymore then it is unjustified for the Government to keep occupants there and maintain that residence. The former president should provide his own accommodation while the Government provides reasonable support.
(2) Where a former President decide to reside in his or her own residence, the Government shall maintain his or her residence and provide it with telephone, internet and other facilities for his or her comfort.
Proposal: The former president should be responsible for his residence or accommodation. The Government should not provide unlimited telephone, internet, and other services and facilities for the residence of the former president. Rather a monthly budget should be provided to cater for these services and facilities. Where cost of these services and facilities exceeds the budget provided, the former president should pay the difference on his own.
(3) The Government shall provide two cooks, four housekeepers and two gardeners to serve a former President in his or her residence, and such personnel shall be selected by the former President.
Proposal: The Government should provide 2 cooks, 2 housekeepers and 1 gardener for the residence of the former president.
Section 7: Protocol Service
(1) The Government shall provide a Diplomatic Passport for a former President and his or her spouse for life.
Proposal: Agreed. A former president should be entitled to a diplomatic passport.
(2) A former President shall be entitled to protocol within and outside The Gambia.
(3) At a public function, former Presidents shall take their seat in order of precedence after the sitting Vice-President.
Proposal: The protocol service needs defining. Will this entail a team of staff or provision of priority service among others.
Section 8: Health insurance for a former President and his or her spouse
The Government shall provide a former President and his or her spouse with insurance coverage for medical and dental treatment, including treatment abroad if specialist treatment is needed which is not available in The Gambia.
Proposal: Provision for healthcare for the former president and spouse and children under 18 should be provided in the Gambia at military hospitals or at public health facilities which should be free of charge. No medical treatment or healthcare abroad should be paid for by the Government. It is the Government’s responsibility under a sitting president to ensure that quality and well-equipped public health facilities exist in the country. If the former president so wishes he can seek medical treatment abroad at his own cost.
9: Vehicles for a former President
(1) The Government shall provide a former President with three new chauffeur-driven vehicles including fuel, maintenance, tax and insurance.
(2) The Government shall replace the vehicles of a former President every five (5) years with new vehicles.
Proposal: Agreed. However, the replaced vehicles should be returned to the Government.
10. Security for a former President
The Government shall provide security for the full-time protection of a former President and his or her spouse for life. Agreed.
11. Vacation for former President
The Government shall, in every year, sponsor one-month annual vacation expenses of a former President and his or her spouse and one accompanying staff to a destination of his or her choice.
Proposal: Reject. The Government should not pay for any vacation for the former president. Rather the former president should pay for his own holiday. In that case, the Government will pay for the travel costs and DSA of one security officer and one personal assistant.
12. Allowances of surviving spouse of former President
(1) The Government shall pay allowances to the surviving spouse of a former President at a rate per annum, payable monthly, which is equal to twenty-five per cent (25%) of the annual rate of gross salary of a serving President.
Proposal: Reject. The spouse of the president is not a public officer and hence does not qualify for a pension from the taxpayer. Secondly, a sitting president earns D3M per annum hence in five years this amounts to D15M income untaxed. Furthermore, a sitting president does not pay for food, accommodation, healthcare, and clothing among other needs. Therefore, a former president should take care of his or her spouse from his earned income (salary or pension) as both a sitting and former president.
Proposed Section: Application of the Bill
Proposal: A president who is removed through impeachment or found by a court or a commission of inquiry to have committed abuse of office, human rights violations, and corruption while in office shall not be eligible to benefit from this bill.