On 24th March 2016, government published the Presidents (Gratuity, Pensions and Retirement Benefits) Bill, 2016. Through this Bill, government intends to amend the Presidents (Pensions and Retirement Benefits) Act, 1998 (hereinafter referred to as the Act). It is this Bill that we wish to review in this article.
The Bill seeks to amend section 3 of the Act by introducing the payment of gratuity. It provides that “the President shall upon dissolution of Parliament, or immediately upon ceasing to hold office as such, be entitled to receive a gratuity equal to 30 percent of his or her current monthly basic salary multiplied by the number of months completed by him or her as President.”
Under the Act, “a tax free monthly pension equivalent to the monthly basic salary attached to the office at the time that that person ceased to hold office, or 80% of the incumbent President’s salary, whichever is greater, is payable. This pension benefit will also be retained under the amended Act.
The standard practice in both the private sector and the public sector is that one is entitled to either a gratuity or a pension. For instance, public servants are, upon retirement, entitled to one third of their pension as a lump sum and thereafter get monthly payments. They do not get any gratuity. It also ought to be noted that public servants, for example, make monthly contributions to their pension, with the employer also making a contribution.
Two things deserve comment with respect to the proposed amendment to section 3 of the Act. Firstly, it is inappropriate for the President to be entitled to both a pension and a gratuity, especially that in terms of both the Act and the Bill he or she does not make any contributions to any. The gratuity, pension and all the other benefits are, in terms of section 5 of the Act, a charge on the Consolidated Fund.
No doubt this places a burden on the Consolidated Fund, especially considering that in terms of section 4(1) of the Act “a surviving spouse of a person, who has held the Office of President-(a) who dies in office shall be paid a tax free monthly pension at the rate of 50 per cent of the pension that that person would have been entitled to receive if that person had retired at the date of the occurrence of the death…”
Further, a surviving spouse of a person, who has held the Office of President- “(b) who dies after ceasing to hold office shall be paid a tax free monthly pension at the rate of 50 percent of the pension that that person would have received but for the occurrence of such death”
Section 4(2) of the Act provides that “without prejudice to the provisions of subsection (1), any surviving spouse shall be paid a tax free annual pension of P 98, 268.00 provided that the President may, by order, amend this subsection by increasing the amount of pension payable thereunder.”
The Bill also seeks to repeal section 6(2) of the Act which provides that “if a person who ceases to be President directly or indirectly holds any paid office, in the service of the State, or in the employment of any person, any pension or benefits to which such person is entitled under this Act shall be suspended for the period that that person holds such office.”
Repealing section 6(2) of the Act will in effect allow a retired President to be paid monthly pension, for example, even if he or she is employed by government, the private sector or international organizations. Clearly, this is unjust because by its very nature pension is only payable to one who is no longer in employment.
The Bill also seeks to amend the schedule of benefits provided for in terms of section 3(b) of the Act. Paragraph 2(a) of the schedule is amended by giving the retired president the option to choose between having an office, where he or she prefers, of the standard and size specified by the President or receiving office accommodation allowance using the prevailing Gaborone market rental rates.
This proposed amendment is problematic in many ways. Firstly, it allows the President to have an office outside Gaborone. The reason there is provision for an office for a retired President is to allow him or her to continue to perform some official functions and to be visited, at the office, by citizens, government officials and diplomats.
If the office is outside Gaborone it will not only be difficult for such visits, but it will also be too expensive because diplomats and government officials, for example, will have to travel long distances to meet the retired President. Providing for the office’s security will also be expensive. The former President’s security will also be at risk since few areas outside Gaborone have tight enough security for the person of a retired President.
Secondly, it gives the President an unlimited discretion to decide on the standard and size of the office. This may result in the State incurring huge expenses if the President, without justification, chooses offices of a standard and size which the State budget cannot sustain.
Thirdly, it allows the retired President to choose to receive office accommodation allowance using the prevailing Gaborone market rental rates instead of offices. As stated earlier, the purpose for this provision was to allow the retired President to have official offices from which he or she works and at which he or she can be visited. It was never meant to be an avenue for income generation by a retired President.
Paragraph 3(a) of the schedule is amended to give the retired President the option to choose between having a residential house of the standard and size specified by the President and receiving a housing allowance in lieu of the house.
This amendment also poses problems. Firstly, it gives the President an unlimited discretion to decide on the standard and size of the house. This may result in the State incurring huge expenses if the President, without justification, chooses a house of a standard and size which the State budget cannot sustain.
Secondly, a retired President’s residence should be one which can be easily visited by government officials, diplomats and citizens. If such a residence is in Serowe, for example, not only will it be inconvenient for such visits, but also such visits will be too expensive for the State.
Also, providing for the retired President’s security will also be expensive. The former President’s security will also be at risk since few areas outside Gaborone have tight enough security for the person of a retired President.
Paragraphs 7(a) and (b) of the schedule are amended by deleting the words “in Gaborone.” This is consequential to the amendments of paragraphs 2(a) and 3(a) of the schedule which allow a retired President to have an official residence and office outside Gaborone.
The other benefits under the schedule namely staff, office equipment, medical insurance, travel and transport will remain unchanged. While I am uncomfortable with part 6(a) which provides for “one sedan (Mercedes or an equivalent or similar class of motor vehicle) since it is tantamount to giving one vehicle manufacturer an advantage of others which results in unfair competition, I am comfortable with the rest of the provisions.
In conclusion, it ought to be stated that while we have a duty to take good care of retired Presidents such care should not be too expensive for the State. After all, a retired President would have been paid while in office and should have built his or her own residence and saved for his or her retirement.
It is unfair to have so many of our people suffer in poverty and squalor when a retired President, who has, at the tax payer’s expense, lived in opulence for most of his or her life is further drowned in lavishness at retirement.
Recently, government, arguing that the country is faced with severe financial constraints, offered a mere 3 percent salary increment to public servants. Why is it that when it comes to increasing a retired President’s benefits financial constraints are not a consideration?
Setswana says ‘mabala a kgaka a bonelwa kgakaneng’ meaning that the beauty of a guinea fowl is better seen through its young one. A parent, for example, cannot live a lavish life while his or her children live in poverty. Similarly, a President or retired President cannot live in opulence when the majority of his or her people and public servants live in poverty and squalor. Such is unconscionable.
There is a saying in South Africa which avers that, “the White man has no kin: his kin is money”. The saying rings very true considering what Mayer Amschel Rothschild – he of the planet’s wealthiest family – once said, that, “Permit me to issue and control the money of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws!”
To the white man, the dollar sign looms so large in his optics that it was precisely the reason he appropriated Africa towards the end of the 19th century. The idea was to develop his continent, Europe, at the same rate as he underdeveloped Africa. Yet he was driven as much by economic imperatives as by sheer greed and prejudice.
A “pagan” King violates the Jewish Temple by setting up an idol in the Holy of Holies
Why, General Atiku, has the Judean setting (present-day Israel/Palestine) being the focus of so much geopolitical fervour over the ages when it is so resource-poor and is not even that agriculturally fecund being a virtual desert? Why have all the superpowers of history locked horns over it since days immemorial?
Just a ‘teaser’: we are all complaining of the ‘hot weather’ and ‘heat’ – but think about it, is this a reminder / warning from the Almighty that if we find this weather ‘hot’ can you imagine what the ‘fires of hell’ will be like should we get there?
Let us take this as a reminder and a ‘warning’ that we should change our lifestyles so that we follow in the path of righteousness and that which our Lord has directed. Failing this we will face the ‘fire of hell’ which undoubtedly will be many times worse than what we are facing on this earth.
Because as humans we have been favoured and bestowed with the power of intellect thus we enjoy greatness over other creation, coupled with a greater responsibility. Should that responsibility be misused then only on the Day of Reckoning will he know we will live in joy or in grief forever.
Since the dawn of creation Allah has sent down thousands of messengers, dozens of Divine Books but only ONE universal Message to humanity. That message of Divine Revelation and guidance is clear, unambiguous and eternal:
Allah is One, He is Master and Creator of the universe and of mankind and to Him is due all worship and obedience.
He has sent humanity Divine Revelation and guidance through His Messengers and His Books.
As death is inevitable in this world, equally is our resurrection in the Hereafter where everyone will face the consequences of their belief, unbelief and conduct in this temporal world.
This is the basic message, teaching and belief of every religion and without doubt we will all be called to account for our lives in this world and the manner in which we conducted ourselves, will be rewarded thereafter, the consequences of which may be joy forever for some or grief forever for others.
“It is He [Allah] Who created Death and Life, that He may try which of you is best in deeds and He is Exalted in Might, Oft-Forgiving.” (Qur’an: 67: 2)
In Islam the teachings of the Qur’an and the Last and Final Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) give clear guidance to the believer on how to live a life in this world so as to achieve success in the Hereafter.
‘If any do wish for the transitory things of this life, We readily grant them, such things as We will, to such persons as We will…… those who wish for the things of the Hereafter and strive for them with all due striving, and have faith, they are the ones whose striving is acceptable to Allah’ (Qur’an 17: 18-19)
In this world when a person sets out on a journey towards our Maker (Allah), he finds two paths, one leading to God and the other path to different destinations. A sincere and faithful believer will always try to find the right path and to live by the Divine injunctions, laws and code that his religion lays down. This requires us to live in harmony with the will of the Creator, in harmony with our own selves, and with the needs of the rest of creation. Unfortunately we have a tendency at times to toy with Divine Law and to surrender it to the laws of man and in the process to translate and interpret them into what fits in with our lifestyle of today.
If we are to use the intellect and the freedom of choice bestowed to us by God Almighty and follow His guidance, we will then live consciously in a state of “submission’ to Him, thus we will be virtuous. On the other hand when we ignore our Creators injunctions we work against the natural order, we tend to create discord, injustice and evil – and we become one without guidance. Therefore it is the intellect and the freedom of choice given to us that we are fully responsible for whatever we do.
However, it would be foolish for us to think of ourselves as totally independent and self-sufficient. If a person thinks in this manner, we become proud and. We will be inclined to become ungrateful for the bounties that we enjoy – the air that we breathe and the food we eat to sustain us, the eyes and ears we use to perceive the world around us, the tongue and lips we use to express our needs, wants and our inner most feelings and emotions. And being ungrateful, we will be inclined to forget or to reject the truth of the existence of God Almighty.
Unfortunately, people have varying views with regards to what the most important characteristic of a person is: for some it is the colour of his skin; for others, it is his economic situation – whether he is wealthy or poor; others think it is his , social or political standing, whether he is ruler or ruled; for others it is his social standing as an aristocrat, middle or working class; yet for some is his birth place and the language he speaks or the tribe he belongs to, etc..
‘Do men think that they will be left alone on saying “We believe”, and they will not be tested? We tested those before them, and Allah will certainly those who are true and those who are false’. (Quran 29: 2-3)
In Islam, these have no significance rather they are merely taken as signs of the creative power of God to enable people to recognise one another. The Almighty declares “O Mankind! Indeed we have created you as male and female, and have placed you in nations and tribes that you may have mutual recognition. However, the most honourable of you, in the sight of Allah is the one who is most God-conscious” (Qur’an: 49: 13)
Hence, the most important characteristic of a person is whether he is conscious of his Creator, believes in Him and through that consciousness submits to Him at all times and in all circumstances.
According to the Islamic view man is created by Allah in a pure state, free from sin. He also created us with the capacity or power to do both good and evil. He gave us the freedom to choose between doing good or evil. The good and evil therefore is connected with mankind’s freedom of choice and responsibility for their actions. “Good” may be whatever is pleasing to Allah and therefore beneficial to us. Whereas “Bad/evil” may be whatever incurs the anger of God and is therefore harmful to man.
‘By the soul, and the proportion and order given to it; And its enlightenment as to its wrong and its right – truly he that succeeds that purifies it, and he fails that corrupts it….. (Quran 91: 7-10)
Therefore one of mankind’s main tasks is to keep away from and ward off evil. This is why Taqwa, piety and God consciousness is repeatedly mentioned in the Qur’an as the most important quality a person should develop in this regard. This means one must be conscious at all times not to over step the limits set by God. It works as a defence against evil and temptation by keeping a person within the boundaries of piety.