By Raffique Shah
October 24, 2022
One significantly large and growing demographic of the population that is feeling the brunt of the multiple negatives that are impacting the economy and every day consumers, is the aged and the infirm. They are dying like proverbial flies, often ‘parked aside’ and ignored, or worse, left to suffer sub-human conditions, large numbers of them choosing to make their exit as quietly and quickly as they can, not wanting to subject their surviving families and friends to lingering social fallout.
They simply cannot cope with the cost of living that was almost outside of their reach when the Covid pandemic struck in 2020, but zoomed past their paltry pension packets by the time governments shoved the health crisis aside to focus on a looming shortage on basic foods that could drive us into starvation. At around that time, in what comic strip character L’il Abner would brand a ‘double whammy’, we learnt that the nation ranked high globally in lifestyle diseases now referred to as ‘co-morbidities’, a new term that entered the lexicon where high percentage of the population, young, old, and in-between, suffered with diseases such as—diabetes, heart and respiratory conditions, obesity and more.
Our health system, already buckling under the Covid pandemic (thousands hospitalised) had now to accommodate large numbers who were stricken with these death-dealing diseases. Most people who seem to not know or care about these diseases did not avail themselves of clinics that catered precisely for the management of such ailments. By the time they came under scrutiny during routine tests in the Covid crisis, our national health was in a far worse condition than we had imagined. This burdensome weight on public expenditure meant that as the elderly moved into the danger zone, they could no longer work to help themselves and their families. Many among them seem not to even care, adopting a typical Trinidadian attitude, ‘Jah will take care of us’.
The ranks of the retired were swelling faster than the revenue required to care for them. Of the tens of thousands who fell into this demographic, most of them would rely solely on a mini pension from the National Insurance Board and hope they would qualify for the old-age grant. Those who were fortunate enough could have been employed as government monthly-paid public servants, or who worked most of their lives in properly structured private sector companies, in many instances, enjoyed pension plans that ranged from insignificant, petty sums to adequate, even generous terminal benefits. The latter were mainly from energy sector firms and other financially successful private sector companies.
Annuities were almost futuristic so few people invested in them. Life insurance was not attractive to people of my generation who felt that there might come the day when someone- even a close relative- may send you packing into the hereafter just to cash-in on what your life was insured for.
Of course those who were smart and chose politics as their highway to a high-flying lifestyle and stuck with it through the good, the bad and the ugly, emerged as the smartest of us all. Even as many among them who recoiled when the stench of corruption assaulted their nostrils, many others dived into the sewage, grabbing whatever they could to enhance themselves and enrich their friends and families. They were made for politics and politics T&T style suited them as if it was created by a bespoke tailor. Many citizens may not know that sitting politicians decide on their own emoluments. They make submissions to the Salaries Review Commission which the commission hardly rejects since it is hired by the said politicians. Oh, and to make it acceptable but out of reach to the citizens, its details hide in the open in reports published by the SRC.
How many people know that our chief justices retire to roughly one hundred thousand tax free dollars plus perks, monthly? Or that their brother judges enjoy similar, lucrative pensions for life?
A Prime Minister, whatever his/her performance was like when they held office, is entitled to the full emoluments of the sitting PM, and perks from as early as age fifty-five if they demit office. Cabinet Ministers and MPs who never held ministerial office are generously catered for. On the other hand, you have fools like me who decided after the first stench to never again run for office. On the eve of the 1981 election, Basdeo Panday offered me any seat I wanted. I not so politely declined. I was accustomed to living a frugal life and when retirement came, at sixty in my case, I thought I was ready to face the final years smiling contented like so many working people especially as I was jogging five miles a day and had no illnesses or signs of it.
Then Parkinson’s stuck like a bolt from the blue. My medical expenses soared. My earnings and savings dipped. I encountered the pensioner’s plight. To be continued…