Dec 07, 2008 Letters
Largely because of the progress in the treatment of certain diseases associated with aging, the life expectancy of senior citizens has risen considerably.
As a consequence, since the 1960’s, there has been a steady increase in the percentage of the Guyanese population who live beyond the age of 65 years. Based on the 1970 national census data, the percentage of the Guyanese population over 65 years was 3.6% (or, about 25,000 persons), and in 2002 that percentage had risen to 4.2% (or, about 32,000 persons).
Yet, Guyanese society and Guyanese officialdom in particular tend to gloss over and even ignore the hard facts of inflationary and other significant impacts (for example, property re-valuation, VAT, increasing transportation and medical costs) on the carrying and buying capacities of increasing numbers of older Guyanese, who are finding it impossible to maintain a dignified standard of living and are falling, in many cases, into poverty.
Guyanese officialdom has even succeeded in not only isolating Senior Citizens but is, in their own convoluted way, contributing to the destruction of their self-esteem.
For example, whenever an official announcement is made concerning cost of living (COL) wage increases for public service workers, I do not recall pensioners being mentioned in these announcements. We usually have to wait to see if subsequent pension payments reflect the COL increase.
For years the monthly pension of some retired University of Guyana professionals, who have served the University for over 10 years as lecturers, have remained at $7,125.00.
This amount of money is insufficient even to pay the GPL bill of middle class homes, with the very basic energy consumption (lights, refrigerator, radio, television, and microwave).
The destruction of the self-esteem of older Guyanese citizens has both economic and social dimensions.
Having removed us (forced retirement) from, and having failed to meaningfully utilise or reintegrate older citizens into the mainstream of Guyanese life, senior citizens are more or less denied the means to live decently.
Unemployment tends to strike the older segment of the work force especially hard and the pension schemes of a significant percentage of Guyanese seniors are woefully inadequate. For example, this writer — a former Public Servant (3 years), Science Master at Queen’s Collage (13 years), Lecturer at the Lilian Dewar Secondary Teachers Collage (2 years), Lecturer at the University of Guyana (10 years plus), holds a four-year Bachelor’s Degree, a Master’s Degree, two Postgraduate Diplomas, and a Doctorate, all from overseas Universities.
My monthly pension from the Public and Social Services are as follows:
Guyana Public Service: $14, 300
Guyana National Insurance Scheme: $14, 207
University of Guyana: $7, 125
Old Age Pension: $6,000
Total: $41, 632
Whether the above is an improvement on what the situation was some years ago, readers would be surprised to know that a former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Guyana received a pension of $3,000 per month when he retired in the mid-nineteen nineties.
Some of us may recall this gentleman’s destitute appearance as he walked the streets of Georgetown. What a depressing sight it was. Government had to vote a special monthly pension of $30,000 per month for the former Vice-Chancellor.
Sad to say that the health of this gentleman had so deteriorated by then, that he did not live much longer after the receipt of his increased pension.
As far as I am aware, this kind of relief was granted to no other retired academic from the University of Guyana.
The original architects or draughtsmen of the University of Guyana Pension Scheme, I am told, are to be blamed for this debacle.
The Governing Council of the University of Guyana has, it would appear, consistently turned a blind eye to the predicament of those of us who have made untold sacrifices to develop ourselves to a level at which we acquired a variety of expertise so essential to the development of the Guyanese nation.
The above should vividly illustrate that many older pensioners require income supplements in the form of either subsidies or exemptions, or both, to raise us even to the poverty line.
Senior citizens ought to be made eligible for age-related exemptions in areas in which state and parastatal enterprises have jurisdiction.
This letter provides ample reasons to re-assess our retirement regulations and plans, pension schemes, and more importantly, our attitudes towards senior citizens in Guyana.
I would suggest that the avoidance of the acknowledgement of the inflationary and other significant impacts on the carrying and buying capacities of our senior citizens through the years is linked to our negative attitudes towards elderly people. Our senior citizens, even if terminally ill, want to embrace life even as they leave it.
This problem of relating to the old and elderly is one that Guyanese society as a whole must face. Our only desire is to serve.
Our hands are extended; they need only to be grasped by our fellow humans who will, we sincerely hope, live to enjoy grand parenting and mentoring in their senior years.
There are alternatives that can be developed if we have the WILL to do so. The older person today and of the future need not be betrayed by society. We can be utilised and re-integrated into the mainstream of society and as a result our lives can be enriched immeasurably.
An outstanding American statesman, Bernard Baruch, on his 85th birthday said: “Age is only a number, a cipher for the records. A man can’t retire his experience. He must use it. Experience achieves more with less energy and time.” Towards such a philosophy, we Guyanese have a long way to travel.
Name and Address Withheld
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