Every time I come across a former Prime Minister walking through an airport, or attending a public function I recoil at the manner in which the Caribbean State treats its former Heads of Government. This is clearly not in sync with the political and social status enjoyed by former presidents, for instance in the United States. In that country, under the Former Presidents Act, presidents are entitled to a pension (around US$200,000 annually), support staff, office support, travel funds and mailing privileges. These supports are designed to “maintain the dignity” of the office and to ensure that these individuals do not have to enter “unsuitable” occupations after demitting office.
Indeed, I recall attending a cricket match at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus around 2004/2005 and glancing around in time to see former prime minister Erskine Sandiford walk a little haltingly (it’s an age thing) towards the sitting area. It struck a chord. For whether or not we approved of his management of the economic affairs of Barbados in the early 1990s, he is deserving of respect benefitting an individual who occupied the most powerful political position in the land.
I am also reminded of current Prime Minister, then leader of the Opposition, Keith Mitchell of Grenada. He was on the airport in Barbados headed back to Grenada. And like a more energized Erskine Sandiford (it’s an age thing) he walked into the food court and sat at a table. No security, no protocol officer, nothing. My heart bled for him. Not because I was enamoured with his administration, but because, once again, here was a former prime minister deserving of better. And so, I called my Grenadian colleague Wendy Grenade to explain my emotions. Wendy urged me to introduce myself and to dialogue. It was a most interesting conversation.
As leader of the opposition in St Lucia, former prime minister Kenny Anthony shared with me some of his disappointments with the manner in which he was treated by the United Workers Party (UWP) following his defeat at the polls in 2006. And he urged me to research the treatment of political leaders after they demitted office. I must admit that he would be disappointed in me, for I have been unable to deliver for a variety of reasons. I was not surprised, though, at the courtesies extended to former prime minister and Leader of the Opposition Stephenson King after the UWP was voted out of office in 2011.
In Australia, all former prime ministers are entitled to a city office, business class travel, a personal vehicle, limousine travel to official events, taxpayer-funded phones and fax machines, as well as printing allowances. They can also claim travel costs for their spouse to official engagements. As for Britain, there are similar perks, and under the Public Duties Cost Allowance Act, the State pays for the cost of offices and secretarial staff befitting the “special position in public life” that former prime ministers hold.
Further afield, former African strongmen are treated quite differently and with a great deal of appreciation. Perhaps I exaggerate as what I describe as appreciation may very well be fear, for several of these post-colonial leaders were in fact strongmen who had initially come to power by the gun and not the ballot, and who continued to have loyal supporters among the military and ethnic groups, some of whom had benefitted from State patronage.
Recently, we learnt of what appears to be the outrageous benefits granted to deposed President of Zimbabwe and certainly nothing akin to this is being recommended. In South Africa, former presidents maintain all the payments, salaries and other fringe benefits that they received whilst in office and they do so for life.
In Nigeria, The Remuneration of Former Presidents and Heads of State (and other Ancillary Matters) Act provides for the post retirement of both the president and vice president. While the former president is entitled to a N$350,000 (US$975.96) monthly upkeep allowance, every former vice president is paid N$250,000 (US$697.11) These allowances are also extended to the family of deceased presidents and vice presidents to the tune of N$1 million (US$2,788.46) and N$750,000 (US$2091.34) annually, designated for the upkeep of the spouse and education of their children. Additionally, they are also provided with administrative assistance and security, three vehicles every four years, a driver, 30 days’ vacation at the expense of the federal government, free medical treatment (including for the family), a “well-furnished” five-bedroom house (three bedrooms for the vice president), a “well-furnished” office, and importantly, a diplomatic passport for life and entitlement to protocol within and outside Nigeria.
Further, unlike many Caribbean countries where political leaders are deprecated, each former president is a member of the Council of State and collects N$500,000 (US$394.23) whenever he attends meetings (at least twice annually).
In Jamaica, former prime ministers receive a monthly pension equivalent to the salary of a serving prime minister. Additionally, they are provided with 24-hour security from the Protective Services Division of the Jamaica Constabulary Force, and receive an allowance for the upkeep of an office.
Though in Barbadian terms, the above monthly remuneration provided to former Heads of State and Governments in Nigeria, for example, seems inconsequential, I do not propose any annual subvention for former heads, nor would I advocate the provision of a “well-furnished” house, vehicles and all-expense vacations for these individuals. But, at a minimum, I think that it is time that Caribbean States consider granting former prime ministers, a diplomatic passport for life and entitlement to protocol within and outside the state. At a minimum! And, of course, that pension.