President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria, while addressing a breakfast meeting in 2012 where former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice were in attendance, noted that many Nigerian leaders fight to remain in office because of fear of the unknown.
Back at home, we now find ourselves locked in a bruising debate over retirement age, a Pandora box of sorts. This battle has seen MP Eddie Kwizera lock horns with Prof. Oloka Onyango of Makerere University with each reproaching the other of interpreting the Constitution selectively to perpetuate conceived opinions. Prof. Oloka contends that both the content and implications of the undated private members Bill titled the “Judicial Officers Vacation Office Act 2013” Bill by Kwizera are manifestly underhand, unwholesome and unconstitutional.
Kwizera on his part argues that the current retirement age creates experience and knowledge vacuum in public service. What I, however, find puzzling is why our leaders abhor retirement. I do not believe that it is necessarily about service because that can be accomplished in various positions. To this end, I find two points responsible.
The first is how serving officers choose to administer affairs while they are in position of power. Without specific reference to any leader, this point was well elaborated by senior counsel David FK Mpanga. When in office, leaders simply do little if any to improve the society and its systems and in the end, fear to return to that society upon retirement. As a result, they fight to remain in office with all the usual privileges and powers to cushion against the reality check.
Secondly, as a country, we do not care about what happens to our senior citizens. A retired Justice, MP or president is often left to find his/her level within the society. This lack of reasonable retirement packages and possible senior offices where they can still remain of service while maintaining some level of VIP status leaves many startled at the thought of retirement. Retire and then do what?
In Kenya, laws such as the Presidential Retirement Benefits Act in line with the provisions of the Constitution, which provides that “the retirement benefits payable to a former president and a former deputy president, the facilities available to and the privileges enjoyed by them shall not be varied to their disadvantage during their lifetime”, have ensured that retired presidents Moi and Kibaki access a befitting retirement package, which comes with a fully furnished office space of not exceeding 1,000 square metres, a fully equipped secretariat, allowances, VIP status and other benefits.
In the United States, whereas constitutional provisions under Article III says Justices shall “hold their offices during good behaviour,” (technically meaning “for life”) unless a Justice becomes mentally incapable, in a move to encourage judges to retire rather than attempt to hold office during extended periods of potential senility and deteriorating health, the retiring Justices are entitled to a lifetime pension that is equal to their highest full salary.
In 1937, President Franklin Roosevelt while, addressing Congress is quoted to have stated: “We think it so much in the public interest to maintain a vigorous judiciary that we encourage the retirement of elderly judges by offering them a life pension at full salary.”
We need to candidly answer these questions if retirement is going to be a “viable” option.
Otherwise, when faced with such a proposal to raise retirement age or even scrap it, we all know what can happen in the corridors of our law-making body.
The cost of this retirement benefit scheme is high but trust me, we do not want to open this flood-gate.
Article also published in Daily Monitor or 22/07/2013 and you can access it by clicking HERE