Friday, March 1, 2024

Spotlight on ex-presidents’ pensions and benefits

In October 2008, former president, Festus Mogae, was appointed Chairman of the Board of the Choppies Group. The action ruffled a few feathers among the opposition parties. Some opposition leaders expressed unease because they believed Mogae’s relationship with Choppies raised a few “ethical issues”.

Unhappiness over the former president taking up a key position in the private sector centred on interpretation of Section 6 (2) of the Presidents (Pensions and Retirement) Act of 1998, which states: “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”.

Taolo Lucas, at the time Secretary General of the Botswana Congress Party (BCP), said among other things, Mogae’s appointment raised suspicion that he may have had contact with the Choppies Group while still president. “If he derives direct cash benefits as the Chairman of Choppies, he may have to give up some of the benefits due to him by virtue of being a retired president of the republic,” said Lucas.

The BCP’s position on the matter was countered by the Botswana Congress Party (BDP). “I don’t think it’s a problem,” said Comma Serema, the BDP Executive Secretary at the time. “Mogae has vast experience and wisdom to guide their business. Former presidents should be allowed to venture into business.”

In the event, it emerged that the section of the Act being referred to specifically dealt with a former president being engaged and receiving payment for full time employment.

The feelings over the issue nevertheless showed just how deeply emotions can swirl over the pensions and benefits of former presidents, especially where the ex-president receives income elsewhere, or continues to engage in active politics. Expectations of retired presidents are that their roles are tied to their retirement benefits and their packages are not personal. Botswana’s retired presidents are given a private office and staff to facilitate their involvement in post presidential engagements.

As part of his benefits, government built a P20 million house for Mogae in Phakalane where he has two maids and a gardener paid for by the state. In addition, he has two drivers, a number of security officers, one private secretary, a secretary and an office attendant. He and his wife enjoy free medical insurance and travel first class by air and/or rail within Botswana. They are also entitled to international first class air travel four times a year.
As with Sir Ketumile Masire, Mogae is provided with a Mercedes Benz or similar class of motor vehicle, a 4-wheel drive station wagon and a pick-up truck. His other benefits are an entertainment allowance determined by the incumbent President and telephone expenses for his office and official retirement residence. His water and electricity bills are also borne by the taxpayer.

Festus Mogae will periodically receive the heat for accepting income outside his state pension, but he is not alone among southern Africa’s cabal of ex-presidents to receive criticism for that. Others have received sterner action.

In December, Zambia’s government suspended former president Rupiah Banda’s entitlement and retirement benefits. This came after his party’s decision to have Banda retain the party presidency of the now opposition party until it held a convention to elect his successor. The Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) lost power to Michael Sata’s Patriotic Front (PF) in the September 20 polls.

According to the Zambian Constitution, benefits conferred by the Benefits of Former Presidents (Amendment) Act of 1998 “shall not be paid, assigned or provided to a former president who is engaged in active politics”. The constitution states that the interpretation of “active politics” was “the doing of any act indicating a person’s intention to hold elective or appointive office; or the holding of elective of appointive office in a political party, or in an organisation whose main aim is the furtherance of political objectives”. Shortly after, the MMD, in an act to save his benefits, officially announced that the former president had now formally retired from active politics.

Former Zambian presidents receive a tax-free monthly pension equivalent calculated at 80 percent of “the incumbent president’s emoluments”. Moreover, they are entitled to a furnished executive house, three drivers, three motor vehicles with free maintenance and fuel. They also an office, one personal secretary, three security people, one Administrative Assistant at the level of Deputy Permanent Secretary, three house employees, medical insurance and funeral expenses on death, and one return ticket for the former president and one for his spouse every year. ┬á

But politics-as-usual has continued to cast a pall over the issue of the ex-president’s benefits. Banda has reportedly been using “a leaking Mercedes Benz” as his official vehicle. The car was previously used since 2001 by his predecessor, the late Frederick Chiluba.

When Banda went to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on an election-observer mission at the invitation of Carter Centre, the government refused to pay the costs for the officers in his delegation. Michael Sata, the current president, said government was uncomfortable with paying for the ex-president’s staff costs for a private and “purely exclusive” trip. Banda was forced to pay his support staff from his own pocket.

In Namibia, Justice Minister Albert Kawana last year tabled the Former Presidents’ Pension and Other Benefits Bill after what he termed “speculative and provocative reports” on the subject in the country’s newspaper. The Bill, drafted ahead of Sam Nujoma’s retirement, regulates the pension and benefits of the country’s future former president’s.

Nujoma would receive a pension equal to a full salary, a tax-free gratuity equal to his annual salary, medical aid benefits, housing or housing allowance, three vehicles, household and other staff ÔÇô about 30 people in all ÔÇô and various benefits related to the running of his household and office.

Nujoma would stand to receive a furnished official residence at any location within Windhoek but may also elect to instead receive a housing allowance as determined by Cabinet. He would be eligible for telephone, water and electricity allowances. Two domestic workers, two gardeners, two cooks, two waiters and two laundry persons would see to the housekeeping. Three vehicles ÔÇô one sedan (Mercedes Benz S500 or equivalent), one four wheel drive station wagon and one pick-up van would be at the permanent disposal of Nujoma. The cost of fuel and maintenance for these vehicles would be borne by the State. In addition three drivers, two private secretaries, two personnel assistants and two office attendants would serve the former president, who would also be protected by security personnel of not less than 10. ┬á

With diplomatic passports for both the former President and his spouse, the former President would be entitled to both first class rail and air travel within Namibia and if accompanied by a spouse up to a maximum of six trips. First class private international air travel for the pair would be limited to four trips per year.

Prior to this, the Presidential Emoluments and Pension Act of 1990 provided for pension benefits to sitting and former presidents, but did not address matters of security, staff, office and equipment, house and household, travel and transport.


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