Robbing poor pensioners

By Raffique Shah
June 03, 2012

Raffique ShahI MAKE no pretences to “being young” or “feeling young” at age 66. I never dyed my hair—my moustache turned grey before I was 50—and other than leading a reasonably healthy lifestyle, daily exercising included, I have taken the aging process in stride. I no longer walk as briskly as I did a few years ago, and one or two challenges that go with the age-turf have set in, none life threatening, thankfully. Also, I am still able to work, albeit at a reduced level (my choice), hence take care of my family.

I should add that I know many people much older than I who remain very active. As someone who was pivotal to re-igniting distance running in this country back in 1983, I am all too familiar with Lynette “Granny” Luces (84 years old, I believe) and scores of septuagenarians and octogenarians like her who keep on running, all power to them. Thousands more, age 60 and over, continue working, whether it’s in offices or doing manual labour, mostly out of necessity.

The harsh reality of aging, though, is that most older people do not enjoy good health, nor do they have incomes that allow them to lead reasonably comfortable lives. I would hazard a guess that 50 per cent of persons older than 60 are stricken with ill health and depend only on pensions for survival. The more fortunate among them are retirees from the public services or private enterprise who enjoy work-related pensions of $5,000 a month or more, and National Insurance pensions, recently upgraded to $3,000 a month. In both instances they would have contributed to pension schemes all their working lives. A small percentage of retirees would have privately funded annuities to bolster their benefits.

The vast majority of retirees have no such luck. Tens of thousands of government daily-rated workers and most employees of State enterprises (other than a select few in the oil, gas and chemicals sectors) and private firms, after decades of service, receive, at best, a lump sum (gratuity) but no pension. Tens of thousands more, who spent their working lives employed with contractors or in the services sector, retire with a handshake and their NIS pensions—if their employers adhered to the law.

In contrast, elected parliamentarians who make most of the laws and regulations that dictate the pittances that the poor must live with as they grow older, enjoy pensions (from age 55) for serving five years or more in the House of Representatives. There is a graded system, and it is a contributory scheme. But it is very generous to MPs who have served ten years or more, and even better for those who held ministerial appointments. Prime Ministers, of course, enjoy their full salaries as pension, as well as medical and other benefits.

Having painted this elaborate backdrop, I hope readers would understand why I was angry like a raging bull last week when I read that old age pensioners who are in receipt of NIS pensions would now lose out on the former in some rather complicated formulae that, I’m sure, not even Glenn “Hamper Man” Ramadharsingh understands. How this government justifies taking away a few morsels of food from the mouths of helpless old people defies rationale. It flies in the face of everything the People’s Partnership held out to the masses during the elections of 2010. It is gross abuse of the aged and the infirm.

Although they would deny it now, I recall spokespersons for the Partnership saying on the campaign trail that if elected, they would remove the Senior Citizens’ Grant (which was discretionary) and restore the Old Age Pension. They further promised that they would lower the pensionable age to 60, and stated that everyone over 60 would receive a monthly pension of $3,000. Tell me that I am lying.

Further, in the Partnership’s “120 days action plan”, point 17 states, “We will replace the Senior Citizens’ Grant with Old Age Pension and increase it to $3,000.” The new government did that, except that not everyone over age 65 (far less 60) was eligible for what in effect remained a grant, and not everyone got $3,000. So what might have appeared to be a long overdue and welcome change for senior citizens continued being the social welfare maze it was under the PNM.

I argue, too, that the NIS is a contributory and compulsory scheme, the benefits of which are an entitlement. Employees must know that added to their contributions, their employers pay twice as much. Employers face stiff penalties if they fail to deduct employees’ contributions or remit both to the Board. Moreover, before the NIB increased the pension from last March, actuaries approved the $3,000 on the strict condition that increased contributions would come from new “classes” employees.

In other words, the increased NIS pension does not cost government one dollar: increased and expanded contributions pay for it. There is, therefore, no basis for making sleight-of-hand reductions to old people’s already paltry pensions by pointing to NIS pensions. Government has inflicted a grave injustice on pensioners by this convoluted scheme. Really, how could they even think of robbing these poor old people? I refuse to believe that a Cabinet that includes Prakash Ramadhar, Errol McLeod and Verna St Rose Greaves considered the proposed cutbacks and approved them.

If this daylight robbery of the aged, the infirm, the most vulnerable in society, is not reversed forthwith, then I would conclude that this government has lost its soul. Declaration: I have never applied for Old Age Pension and will not do that for as long as I have the strength and energy to earn a living.

5 thoughts on “Robbing poor pensioners”

  1. I hope that in upcoming piece that you talk about the stupid neo-colonial regulations that left a 108 year old woman without her old age pension for the last 2 years. Stella Brown turned 108 years old last month and due to an error on her Birth Certificate she has stopped receiving her income 2 years ago. For her to get it back she must have someone older verify who she is. What a dumb bunch of fools running the system…if you are 108 who will you find to be older. Since she was receiving income all the years prior, shouldn’t that be her verification or at least a traceable way to verify who she is?

  2. I have just read the Guardian piece on a million dollar tracheotomy. The government robbing the poor, and the wealthy doctors robbing the government of money that should go to the poor. My original comment on this issue was apparently deleted by the moderator. Strange, this censorship was previously almost unknown at trinicenter.

    Are we now living in a climate of fear?

  3. I do hope that next THREE YRS,They can recall what they said. I also know that on the plat form they said,Pensions will get $3000.00 at 60yrs. For the pp too now turn around and tell the people of this country that they never said that that will be the day. but it still will not be any reson for me to turn back around and vote for the BULLDOG PNM, I also do hope that will not make you Shah go back and vote for the pnm after how they treat you and your friends in the past even up too manning.

  4. I wish to agree with Mr. Shah “that the NIS is a contributory and compulsory scheme, the benefits of which are an entitlement’

    It is correct to ascertain that the majority of persons above the age of 65 are no longer gainfully employed and depend on pensions for survival.
    Should they be retirees from State Enterprises, or the Public service, then one can assume that they would have contributed to an insurance/Annuity fund, or a Pension plan and depending on their years of service and the amount contributed, they would be entitled to varying sums of pension from the related source/s.
    The emphasis here is on THEIR CONTRIBUTION.
    At the stipulated age, THE NATIONAL PENSION should be everyone’s entitlement, plain and simple.

  5. I,too, am a victim of of this “grave injustice” because, although I have given more than 50 years of my life serving the country, I am “penalized” for being out of the country while studying and tending to my health for the past seven years.

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