“We will make it up to them in the years to come,” said Minister of Social Protection, Ms. Volda Lawrence, yesterday, when asked if she had made any representation at the level of Cabinet for pensioners to have a Christmas bonus this year.
The Minister’s disclosure was forthcoming during her Ministry’s end of year press conference which was held at the Millennium Manor Hotel, Hadfield Street, Georgetown.
Government, earlier this month, announced a one-time $50,000 payout for workers in the public sector who earned a monthly income of less than $500,000. For a number of years, public servants were able to receive increases to their salaries in December. The increases were retroactive to January of the said year. Pensioners would usually also benefit from the stipulated percentage increase.
However, after being elected to office in May, the coalesced A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC) in its national budget announced an increase for public sector workers retroactive to July 1.
Moreover, as the Christmas season approached some public servants had vocalised their concerns, they would not have been eligible for a year pay package. This year was perhaps the basis for Government’s decision to pay them a $50,000 Christmas bonus. More than $1.5 billion was paid to some 30,700 public sector workers including nurses, teachers, members of the disciplined services and semi-autonomous agencies. But several pensioners voiced their concerns that they were not taken into consideration when Government made its decision.
Minister Lawrence said, “The Finance Minister sits next to me in Cabinet, so you can understand his predicament. Since the proposal was made seeking to find monies to pay workers the $50,000, immediately I asked about the pensioners and I was told by the Finance Minister (Winston Jordan) that was not possible at this time, but if I could have found the money in my budget he was willing to consider it.”
She however informed that unspent monies allocated to her Ministry were already earmarked for several important projects at some homes and various offices that fall under the purview of the Social Protection Ministry.
“So we knew that we too couldn’t find that money to give to our pensioners. We have been speaking to them everywhere we go. I have been assuring them that their interest is our primary concern…” asserted Minister Lawrence.
CLARIFIYING SUBSIDIES CONCERNS
The Minister, in response to yet another pensioners-related question at yesterday’s press conference, sought to clarify what she described as a “misconception” regarding the subsidies that were previously paid. Pensioners under the People’s Progressive Party Civic Government were entitled to subsidies for their water and electricity consumption.
Minister Lawrence stressed, “There was not a community that I went to personally, where senior citizens have not come to me and addressed the issues by saying ‘thank you Minister and thank you and the Government for ensuring that there is a level playing field in the pension’.”
The Minister in her deliberations called into question, the knowledge of some media operatives who have reported on the issue and even questioned whether comments from pensioners across the country were sought before reporting on the stopping of subsidies issue.
Minister Lawrence went on to disclose that upon hearing the announcement of the subsidies offered in the National Assembly in 2012, she (then Shadow Minister of Human Services and Social Security) had some concerns with it. Her concerns were premised on her awareness that it would not have catered to the entire senior citizen population.
“Immediately I wrote the (then) Minister of Finance, I copied it to the Speaker (of the National Assembly), the Leader of the Opposition; I copied it to the Minister then of Human Services and Social Security because I felt it was a very unfair decision,” said a passionate Minister Lawrence yesterday.
She qualified her disclosure by pointing out that in some areas of Guyana, pensioners do not have access to Guyana Power and Light (electricity) and Guyana Water Incorporated (water) services and even if they did, the services would have had to be registered in their names.
“The records of the National Assembly can testify that despite 42,000 plus pensioners were allocated for…in response to my question (posed) to the then Minister there were only 7,000 pensioners who were accessing that allowance (subsidy),” declared Minister Lawrence.
“It started off being very biased and I was very happy when the current Minister of Finance listened to what I had to say and agreed. He ensured that we placed all of those monies across the board for each pensioner,” said Minister Lawrence.
In his presentation of the national budget earlier this year, Finance Minister, Mr. Winston Jordan, announced an increase of Old Age Pension from $13,125 to $17, 000. This, therefore, means that instead of being granted the subsidies, all pensioners have been granted an increase to their pension. It is not for the few, it is for all.”
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