By Omar Bah
The National Assembly yesterday passed a controversial new bill to establish lifetime pensions, gratuities, and other benefits to ex-presidents of The Gambia and their spouses.
When the bill, dubbed The Former Presidents Bill 2023, was tabled before lawmakers with a certificate of urgency, it divided opinion among NAMs, forcing the Speaker to resort to voting on whether it should proceed to a third reading. Out of the 47 present, 30 voted yes, while 17 voted against.
Following the vote, the 17 lawmakers who voted against the bill moving to third reading walked out of the chambers. The lawmakers included the UDP, PDOIS, and some independent members.
The NAMs who decided to stay were commended by Speaker Fabakary Tombong Jatta for standing up for the interests of the people who voted for them.
Moving a motion for the bill to be read a third time, Justice Minister Dawda Jallow said it is believed that many Gambians would not want to see their former presidents living the remainder of their lives as destitute. He said the bill proposes a six-month lump-sum gratuity payment to the outgoing president to assist his or her transition to post-presidential life.
“Although the formal role of a president ends when he or she leaves office, he or she remains a public figure even after leaving office and continues to perform certain formal public roles. In addition, other public servants do qualify for a pension, including executive, legislative, and judicial branch employees. Therefore, it is only fair that a former president also be provided with a pension and additional office facilities to enable him or her to perform duties that emerge as a result of his or her official public status,” he said.
Former presidents, Minister Jallow added, upon their demise are entitled to an official state funeral to accord him or her the nation’s final due respect.
“To continue to preserve the dignity of the first family, the bill proposes a monthly allowance equal to 25 percent, a quarter of the demise former president’s pension, to be paid to the surviving spouse,” he said.
He said that by making life after the presidency modestly comfortable, the benefits provided for in the bill will serve as an incentive to sitting presidents to voluntarily vacate office and, therefore, entice them to avoid undue prolongation of their stay in power, a common phenomenon that usually leads to political instability in Africa,” he added.