By Tabora Bojang
The government will introduce a new bill which would establish lifetime pensions, gratuities and other benefits to ex-presidents of The Gambia and their spouses.
The bill, dubbed The Former Presidents Bill 2023, will be introduced by Finance Minister Seedy Keita in the upcoming Extraordinary Session of the National Assembly in the 2023 legislative year.
The bill would establish an office of former president which shall subsist during the lifetime of the former president from the date of his or her ceasing to be the president.
If passed, the government, within six months after a president leaves office, shall furnish and equip the office of a former president to the standard of cabinet-level and shall employ not less than four staff, including a personal assistant and personal secretary.
For 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 salary of a serving president.
According to the bill, the government within 30 days from the date a former president leaves office, shall pay a former president a non-taxable lump sum in gratuity equal to six months of his or her gross salary last received whilst in office, and such gratuity shall be paid once.
A former president shall be provided with a fully furnished residence, including utilities and other facilities for his or her comfort and where a former president decides 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.
Personnel and security
The Government shall also provide two cooks, four housekeepers and two gardeners to serve a former president in his or her residence and such persons shall be selected by the former president.
In addition, a former president and his or her spouse will be provided full time security protection for the remainder of their lives.
A former president shall be entitled to protocol within and outside the Gambia. Furthermore, the government shall also provide a diplomatic passport to a former president and his or her spouse for life. Also at any public function, the former presidents shall take their seat in order of precedence after the sitting vice president.
It further states that the government shall provide a former president and his or her spouse with insurance to cover for medical and dental treatment, including overseas treatment if specialist treatment needed is not available in the country.
An incumbent government shall also provide a former president with three new chauffeur-driver vehicles including fuel, maintenance, tax and insurance. These vehicles will be subjected to replacements with new ones every five years.
The government shall, in every year, sponsor one-month annual vacation expenses of a former president and his or her spouse and 1 accompanying staff to a destination of his or her choice.
Allowance of surviving spouse
If passed, the government shall pay allowances to the surviving spouse of a former president at a rate per annum, payable monthly, which is equal to 25 percent of the annual rate of gross salary of a serving president. This allowance commences on the day after the former president dies, terminates on the last day of the month before such widow dies and is not payable for any period during which such spouse holds a position under the government to which is attached a pay.
All benefits to be charged from the Consolidated Fund
The pensions, allowances, gratuities and other benefits payable to a former president under the act shall be charged from the Consolidated Fund through the annual budget of the Office of the President. In addition, these benefits will be exempted from income tax.
Entitlement to state funeral
A former president shall be entitled to an official state funeral including traditions and requirements determined by the Gambia Armed Forces
Object of the Bill
The Former Presidents Bill 2023 seeks to repeal and replace the Former Presidents (office, allowances, and other benefits) Act 2006.
Government claims its objects and reasons include to “maintain the dignity of the Office of the President” provides “recognition and gratitude for a former president’s service” to the nation and assist his or her transition to post presidential life.
The government added that hence other public servants do qualify for a person including judicial and legislative employees, it is “only fair that a former president also be provided pension and with additional office facility to perform duties in his or her unofficial public status.”
“By making life after presidency modestly comfortable, the benefits provided for in this Bill will serve as incentive to sitting presidents to voluntarily vacate office thereby enticing them to avoid undue elongation of their stay in power, a common phenomenon which often leads to political instability in many parts of Africa.”
As things stand, only Yahya Jammeh is eligible for this privilege.