By Yusef Taylor, @FlexDan_YT
The Gambia’s National Assembly passed the Former Presidents Office Bill last week 2nd November 2023 during an extraordinary session. In a move which has seen huge Public outcry members of the Sixth Legislature passed the Bill which will see former Presidents receive 80% of a current President’s salary, 12 months’ gratuity and numerous other benefits. It all started after Parliament was summoned to hold its first extraordinary session of the 2023 Legislative Year after the current President Adama Barrow issued a certificate of urgency to consider and approve four Bills namely; the Victims Reparations Bill, the Ban from Public Office (TRRC) Bill, the former Presidents Office Bill and the Commission of Inquiry (Amendment) Bill. All four bills were approved after the two-day extraordinary session started on 1st November 2023 and concluded the following day.
However, out of all the four Bills passed the Former Presidents Office Bill has captured the public’s attention the most. One of the biggest question is if former President Yahya Jammeh who is currently in exile in Equatorial Guinea will also enjoy the benefits stipulated in the Bill. In the objects and reasons of the Bill, it states that “this Bill proposes an annual pension and office expenses for former Presidents to maintain the dignity of the Office of the President”. In addition to this, “the Bill further proposes a one-time six months lump sum gratuity payment to an outgoing President to assist his or her transition to post-presidential life”.
According to the objects and reasons, “the benefits provided for in this Bill will serve as [an] incentive to sitting presidents to voluntarily vacate office thereby entice them to avoid undue elongation of their stay in power, a common phenomenon which often leads to political instability in many parts of Africa”.
Here is a copy of the Former President Office Bill 2023 as tabled by the Justice Minister without any amendments.
It’s important to note that after the Bill was voted in favour to be considered as a matter of urgency members of the Minority Caucus vacated the chambers in protest. Soon after the boycott members of the National Assembly present consisting of the Majority Caucus converged in the Committee of All the members, Chaired by the Speaker of the House, Hon Fabakary Tombong Jatta. This publication highlights some of the amendments that have been recommended during the sitting.
Former Presidents to Receive 80% of Salary of Sitting President for Life
The first amendment observed is in Clause 4 Pensions of a Former President which states that “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”. Hon Fatoumatta Njai of Banjul South argued that a former President should not be paid the same salary as a sitting President and recommended that a former President be paid 50% of the sitting President’s salary. Her recommendation was countered by the Majority Leader and member for Kantora Hon Billay Tunkara who first recommended the current text to be maintained and eventually recommended 80% after another member recommended 75% of the sitting President’s salary.
Eventually, a vote was cast and it was agreed that this section should be amended to reflect 80% of the current President’s salary. The current President’s salary is approximately D250,000 per month. Meaning that a former President will be earning D200,000 per month after vacating office.
Twelve Months Gratuity instead of Six Months
Clause 5 of the Bill states that a former President will be entitled to a one-off gratuity of six months of their last salary received in office within 30 days from the date of vacating office until their demise. This section was amended to reflect 12 months instead of six which means instead of costing Gambian taxpayers D1.5 million, it will now cost D3 million to pay a former President their 12-month gratuity.
Clauses 6 on the Accommodation and Personnel of a Former President and Clause 7 on Protocol Service were both maintained as presented by the Minister of Justice. Clause 6 provides for a former President to “be provided with a fully furnished residence including utilities and other facilities for his or her comfort”. The Justice Minister insisted that the State is not going to buy a house for a Former President, however, the State will provide a fully furnished residence for a former President. Minister Dawda Jallow also clarified that the government will only be maintaining the residence of a former President. Clause 6 subsection 3 also provides for a former President to be allocated “two cooks, four housekeepers and two gardeners” who shall be “selected by the former President”.
Clause 7 on Protocol Service provides for a former President and his or her spouses to be provided diplomatic passports and entitled to protocol inside and outside the country. In addition to this, Clause 7 Subsection 3 dictates that “at a public function, former Presidents shall take their seat in order of precedence after the sitting Vice-President”.
Clause 8 provides for a former President and his or her spouse to be provided health insurance cover “for medical and dental treatment, including treatment abroad, if specialist treatment which is not available in The Gambia”.
On vehicles of a former President, Clause 9 of the former Presidents Office Bill recommends for the government to provide “three new chauffeur-driven vehicles including fuel, maintenance, tax and insurance”. In addition to this, “the government shall replace the vehicles every five years with new vehicles”. The Minister of Justice argued that the word “replace” in the provision means that the existing vehicles will be returned to the state who will in turn provide new ones.
There was a gap in the coverage of the Parliamentary proceedings which covered clauses 10 to 12. Clause 10 is on Security for a former President which provides “for the full-time protection of a former President and his or her spouse for life”. Clause 11 states that “the government shall, in every year, sponsor a 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”. The final clause which no information is currently available on provides for the Allowance of the surviving spouse of the former President. Clause 12 allows for a “surviving spouse” to be paid 25% of the annual rate of gross salary of the sitting President. In addition to this Clause 12 subsection 2 states that “the surviving spouse shall only be paid allowance during his or her lifetime”.
Clause 13 was inserted to highlight that “on grounds of misconduct [a former President] shall not be entitled to the pensions, gratuity allowances and other entitlements payable to the former President under this act”. It was also amended to include that “the pensions and other benefits conferred on this Act shall not be paid and shall not accrue in any period when a former President is in receipt of a salary from the State”.
This provision was recommended by Hon Alhagie Mbow of Upper Saloum which may be used to stop any former President from enjoying benefits under the bill if found wanting for any misconduct while in office. It is believed that this provision may be used to deny former President Yahya A J J Jammeh from benefiting from the former Presidents Office Bill.
Clauses 13 to 18 were all renumbered to clause 14 to clause 19 and the proceedings continued. Clause 14 renumbered clause 15 focuses on Exemption from taxes which remained the same. Clause 16 which was formerly clause 15 on Duration of pensions, gratuity, allowances and other benefits was amended to include subsection 2 which reads “the pensions gratuity, allowances and other benefits of a former President shall not be varied to his or her disadvantage”. This clause aims to maintain a minimum ceiling of benefits for a former President and in effect attempts to stop Parliament, or any other person or institution from reducing benefits in the Former Presidents Office Bill.
The remaining clauses 17, 18 and 19 were maintained as presented in the Bill. These clauses have been reproduced below.
- State funeral for former Presidents
(1) The sitting President shall issue an official proclamation to announce the death of a former President and shall order that the national flag be flown at half-mast or half-staff for a period of thirty (30) days on all national buildings, grounds, naval vessels and platforms both within and outside The Gambia.
(2) A former President shall be entitled to an official state funeral, including traditions and requirements determined by The Gambia Armed Forces.
The Minister may make Regulations generally for the better carrying into effect of the provisions of this Act and to provide for any other matters necessary for its effective implementation.
The Former Presidents (Office, Allowances and Other Benefits) Act is repealed. [Act No.16 of 2006]
After the Bill was considered by the Committee of the All, the Minister of Justice read the Bill for the Third Time and was seconded by the Majority Leader, Hon Billay Tunkara of Kantora. The Bill was eventually passed with amendments after which Parliament took a break to for lunch and prayers to consider the Commission of Inquiry (Amendment) Bill.
The Gambia has had three Presidents starting with now deceased former President Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara in 1970 whose term ended in 1994 after a coup plot led by second President Yahya A J J Jammeh. Second President Jammeh stayed in power until December 2016 when he was defeated by current President Adama Barrow who is currently serving his second term in office.
First President Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara was knighted by the Queen of England Elizabeth II and eventually passed away in August 2019 meaning that The Gambia only has one former President Jammeh and current President Barrow.