Gurkha Welfare Inquiry session 26th March 2014 1000-1200
In this session the APPG heard from Deepak Maskey of UBGEA. He briefly outlined the historical relationship Britain has enjoyed with Nepal over the past 200 years most notably with Gurkha soldiers contributing heavily to both World Wars and subsequently across the world.
The Tripartite Agreement (TPA), he explained, states that all Gurkhas should be treated equally to those in the rest of the British Army to counter any perception of the Gurkhas as a mercenary force. Deepak stated that the TPA did not link soldier remuneration to the location in which they serve. Furthermore, the Nepalese Government argues that it never formally agreed that the Brigade of Gurkhas (BG) should be paid in line with the Indian pay scale.
Equality across Gurkha pensions was referred to as a crucial issue with Gurkhas receiving significantly lower pensions than their British counterparts despite having performed the same job, in poorer working conditions and longer hours. He explained that the policy of compulsory redundancies was unfair as it didn’t apply to the British or Indian armies, only affecting the BG. Once made redundant after 15 years service a Gurkha veteran had comparatively worse opportunities than the British and much worse payment. As the Gurkhas were/are employed by Britain, Deepak contests that they should therefore have treated them as British workers not Nepalese – paying them accordingly. Those who have been made redundant prior to completing their 15 years service received no pension or compensation – this affects particularly those who served in the Borneo confrontation and those made redundant when the BG was down-sized.
The decision to differentiate between those who served before and after 1 July 1997, Deepak argued, has resulted in a two-tier system with service before this date not being counted as equal to that following it. This has led to some higher ranking officers receiving lower pensions than soldiers who retired after them. Furthermore, the Gurkha offer to transfer (GOTT) onto the AFPS 1975 had the unintended consequence of actually reducing the amount some veterans received in their pension. This was again due to service prior to 1997 being counted only as a third of that following this date. Deepak argued that this may in fact have been illegal as it effectively meant money was deducted from some veterans’ pensions which they had accumulated previously.
Deepak explained that he believes the MoD used the exchange rate to their advantage as the devaluation of the Nepalese rupee has reduced the value of the pension – even while the pension has increased as a percentage it has decreased in real terms.
Deepak discussed the ‘Hawaii incident’ wherein over 100 Gurkha soldiers were discharged from the BG due to a disagreement with a British officer. They contest that there had been no legal due process carried out and that these men were unfairly discharged with no pension.
The Married Unaccompanied Gurkha Addition (MUGA) was a scheme which married Gurkha soldiers could apply for and receive an increase in their salary. Many Gurkha soldiers however claimed this whilst not married and were discharged from the BG. They contest that they hadn’t been given proper due process to defend themselves and feel that the punishment was disproportionate. They called for an inquiry which would specifically explore the issues of MUGA and the ‘Hawaii incident’.
Other issues mentioned include Gurkha soldiers previously not being able to pay towards national insurance; Gurkha soldiers’ names being incorrectly recorded resulting in administrative issues; adult dependents not being given equal settlement rights with their parents; Gurkha widows being paid significantly less than British ones; Nepalese health facilities being much poorer than British ones.
Deepak highlighted how many of these veterans are now living in the UK on benefits as the alternative is to live in poverty in Nepal. By rectifying these grievances he believes many would return to Nepal and therefore no longer cost the Government in welfare payments.
Deepak stated that he feels that the establishing of the Gurkha Welfare Trust (GWT) is indicative of the British Government’s failure to address these issues and has resulted in the Gurkha community having to beg for help from other states. He believes that this is wrong whilst the UK has a budget of £11b for humanitarian aid. He explained that there needed to be a Gurkha representative on the board of the GWT.
It was raised at a previous oral hearing whether Gurkha veterans would be overall worse off if their pensions were increased when their benefits were taken into consideration, but Deepak confirmed that this wouldn’t be the case.
Deepak also presented evidence on behalf of various witnesses to exhibit some of these grievances. These included Captain Rambahadur Limbu VC, the only surviving Gurkha VC recipient, who explained that he feels that the British Government has treated him unfairly due to the grievances outlined above.
Other witnesses included a Gurkha widow whose husband was involved in the ‘Hawaii incident’ and therefore received no pension; someone who wrongly claimed MUGA and was discharged without a pension; a widow whose husband died one month after returning from the Falklands war and she was never told how; a mother and son who are unable to live together due to the rules on adult dependents; and a soldier who was administratively discharged having undergone prolonged medical treatment rather than medically discharged.
Gurkha Welfare Inquiry session 26th March 2014 1300-1400
In this session the APPG heard from Dr David O’Halloran, a medical consultant who has been involved extensively in international development work. He outlined his previous work and gave an account of a Gurkha soldier who served as his driver in Africa. He explained how they had to flee from a village and that the Gurkha soldier gave his life for him. He believes that this is typical of many of the Gurkhas and that they have served Britain faithfully. He outlined the recent campaign and hunger strike and explained his own involvement in this campaign.
Various witnesses gave statements following Dr O’Halloran’s hearing outlining the various grievances aired previously during Deepak’s earlier session.
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