As Guyana celebrates Senior Citizens’ Month, this month, the People’s National Congress Reform salutes and extends gratitude to all of our senior citizens for their sterling contributions to the development of our native land.
It is their efforts and contributions that have made it possible for succeeding generations of Guyanese, including their own children, relatives and friends, to have hope for a less turbulent future for all Guyanese.
While more than 60 per cent of our population can be classified as young, senior citizens represent a significant segment of the population. Consequently, Government is obligated to make the necessary budgetary provisions and put in place programmes that place greater emphasis on enhancing the quality of life and providing the much needed health care and other support for senior citizens.
There is no shortage of Government rhetoric on this issue as any perusal of the various Budget Speeches of the PPP over the last decade will reveal. The question is, however, whether the identified programmes have indeed brought relief?
Low wages and salaries, undermined by the rate of inflation and the crippling 16 per cent VAT, have significantly eroded real disposable incomes in recent years. Consequently, Retired Public Servants are increasingly being drafted into the swelling ranks of persons who are unable to afford, from their meagre pensions, the basic necessities for daily living.
What can be done about those public servants whose pensions were calculated on the basis of old and irrelevant salary structures that bear no reality to the cost of living today?
What about the “Genevieve White Nedd’s?” Those public servants who functioned for years in acting positions and enjoying acting allowances, but were obliged to retire on pensions calculated on salaries they earned several years before.
Would the PPP Administration pass legislation, similar to that passed for acting Chief Justice, Ian Chang, to make their acting allowances at time of retirement be the basis for the calculation of superannuation benefits?
Have the well-propagandised, “100 per cent increase in old age pensions” and other initiatives made a difference to the elderly, who also face the excessive 16 per cent VAT?
Over the last five years, under stewardship of the present Minister of Human Services, Priya Manickchand, the National Commission on the Elderly, a statutory body which has the responsibility to discuss, investigate and formulate plans and policies for the elderly, has not held a meeting.
While the Minister boastfully announces that there is a Commission, she has failed to have the Commission meet and deliberate on the many important issues that affect our senior citizens. Instead, what we have at the Ministry of Human Services are the usual hastily drawn-up programs, supported by photo opportunities with senior citizens, whenever Senior Citizens Month comes around.
The PNCR, through its Shadow Minister with responsibility for Human Services and Social Security, has, over the last five years, made several valuable recommendations to the Minister for the improvement and well being of our senior citizens. Among those were calls to:
* Review those laws and regulations governing the pensions;
* Enhance the capability, viability and integrity of the National Commission for the Elderly;
* Develop a National Policy for the elderly;
* Issue pension books during the month of December;
* Implement the recommendations outlined in the Citizens Policy Development Committee Report submitted since 1998;
* Implement provisions for housing support, as well as the subsidizing of utility and medical bills;
* Undertake the regular monitoring and evaluation of the management of the homes for the elderly, to ensure that appropriate standards are maintained, including adequate and appropriate care for the residents; and,
* Introduce a Senior-Adolescent Partnership Program to equip young persons with skills and disciplines for the care for the elderly.
While some of these recommendations have been eventually adopted by the Ministry, the usual penchant of the PPP, to reject any suggestion that does not come from within its ranks, has caused inexplicable delays in the improvement of the quality of service which this nation offers to its senior citizens.
Whenever confronted with evidence of their lack of responsiveness and, in some cases, vision, the PPP and its cohorts resort to their time worn propaganda: “The PNC did nothing in its 28 years”.
Amazingly, after eighteen years of responsibility for the management of the affairs of the country, that Party still, unashamedly believes that it can excuse its miserable performances by reference to the past, forgetting that they were elected on the basis of their undertaking to the electorate to display superior performance.
THE NIS SCHEME
In this month of October, therefore, it is appropriate to remind the PPP that it was the PNC Government, under the visionary Leadership of Prime Minister Forbes Burnham, that conceptualized, organized and launched a social security scheme aimed at providing benefits for all workers of Guyana and benefits for all of our senior citizens.
On September 29, 1969, the National Insurance Scheme (N.I.S.) commenced operations as an agency within the then Ministry of Labour and Social Security. September 29, 2010 marked forty-one years of its existence.
Over these 41 years, the National Insurance Scheme, (N.I.S.), has been highly successful and has provided major assistance and a multiple of benefits for Guyanese of all races and classes.
The benefits covered include areas such as sickness benefits, employment injury benefits, maternity benefits and allowances, invalidity grants, invalidity pension, old age pension, survivors’ pension, disablement pensions, overseas medical care, survivors’ grants, funeral grants and industrial death pension.
Today, many citizens of Guyana look forward to and in some cases depend upon N.I.S. benefits. Consequently, it has now been acknowledged as an indispensable institution in our society.
It is instructive to remind the Nation that the PPP, not only criticized the scheme as a PNC political instrument intended to penalize sugar workers, but also vigorously organized demonstrations by sugar workers against the scheme. Ironically, these workers became the largest single category of beneficiaries of the scheme.
The institution has also become a major source for the PPP/C Administration to finance many projects, including, US$4M loaned to Government to build the CARICOM Secretariat Headquarters at Liliendaal, East Coast Demerara, in excess of $250M loaned to Laparkan to facilitate, among other activities, their hire purchase programme, and, the investment of $6B in the Berbice River Bridge.
The PNCR, in keeping with its unquestionable record of performance in this area, believes that any caring Government should take steps to meet the challenges of a growing, healthier and more active senior citizen population through various programmes such as, a Feeding Programme and Seniors’ Day Activity Centres in each of the ten administrative regions.
Additionally, many services, such as the provision of visiting health aides, can be provided with the assistance of NGOs and other bodies. It may also be timely to introduce and in some cases expand health programs for Senior Citizens on our television/radio stations and in the national newspapers, to help to educate and support family members who have to take care of seniors at home and other caregivers in various institutions.
Of course, there is no guarantee that the Minister of Human Services or the Government will take on board any of the suggestions made to enhance the lives of our Senior Citizens.
Irrespective of the PNCR, however, the PPP Government has to honour their obligations, particularly to our indigent and suffering senior citizens. The PNCR will therefore continue its representation at all levels on behalf of our senior citizens.
The Party takes this opportunity to wish every senior citizen, within the 183,000 square miles of our beloved country, Good health, and God’s blessings in this, their month of October.
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