Jul 13, 2016 News
By Rehanna Ramsay
Emphasizing that the position of Minister of Social Protection, Volda Lawrence, on disallowing overseas-based Guyanese access to the Old Age Pension Scheme is supported by the law, Public Relations Officer (PRO) within the Ministry, Terrence Esseboom has noted that the task of strengthening the system will not be an easy one.
“The Minister has not done anything new. This is the law. The only difference is that it is now being enforced. It has always been there,’ Esseboom said.
“What has happened is that Guyanese are not accustomed to it (the law being applied). That‘s why it feels so strange to many people. But this is not anything new,” he stressed. He added that the task of rectifying the system will not be easy.
Minister Lawrence recently revealed that the Ministry will soon be putting measures in place to ensure that Guyanese living in other countries do not access a Guyanese pension, a process she described as “double dipping.”
According to information released from the Ministry, there have been accusations that the Government’s old age pension scheme was laced with fraud, with many persons collecting under false pretence.
Minister Lawrence had outlined that last year this issue was brought to the attention of the staff of the ministry. They were then advised that they will be held responsible and surcharged when books are issued, with them knowing the persons do not live in Guyana.
“Persons desirous of accessing old age pension will have to be living in Guyana for a minimum of two years.”
Speaking to Kaieteur News at the Ministry’s Cornhill Street office yesterday, Esseboom noted the need for sanitization of the Old Pension Fund, which services some 45,000 Old Age Pensioners.
He explained that under the previous system, there was a breach in the system which led to persons living outside Guyana gaining access to monies from the Old Age Pension Scheme. The PRO said that there are a number of ways in which overseas- based senior citizens could tap into Old Age Pension Scheme.
“We have some people (senior citizens) who would come home for holidays, annually and wait until the pension books are being distributed, collect the books, and give authorization for someone to collect the money on their behalf, when they are not even living here. That is just one scenario,” he noted.
The PRO reaffirmed that while there are breaches in the system, efforts are underway to bring about reinforcement.
He said that the Ministry will first sanitize the system before introducing the digital data to further strengthen the system against matters of fraud.
Commenting on the controversy over who is eligible for the pension, Esseboom said that it should be public knowledge that the Old Pension Scheme is “a duty free” concession. He stressed that Old Age Pension cannot be earned through service to Guyana, but it is an entitlement to resident Guyanese seniors over the age of 65 years.
Following the disclosure by Minister Lawrence, the Ministry of Social Protection had sent out a statement clarifying that Old Age Pension is not an entitlement from employment, as in the case of Government Pension and National Insurance Scheme Pension, but rather Old Age Pension is a monthly payment ($18,200 at present) available to eligible Guyanese aged 65 or older.
According to the statement, it is provided for under the Old Age Pension Act (Chapter 36:03), which clearly states that applicants must meet certain statutory conditions to qualify for Old Age Pension.
These statutory conditions are that the person must have attained the age of 65 years; must satisfy the appropriate authority that he/she has been a citizen of Guyana for at least ten years immediately preceding his/her claim for a pension, and the person must have been ordinarily resident in Guyana during the 20 years immediately preceding their claim for pension.
“In the event that the person is temporarily absent from Guyana, the applicant or pensioner must satisfy the Authority, usually through the provision of the person’s passport and an immigration check conducted by the Ministry, that the period of absence from Guyana has not exceeded two years during the past 20 years, according to law.”
Additionally, a person receiving Old Age Pension may become ineligible if that person is a resident in a charitable institution that provides board and lodging; is in prison or has migrated.
“It is in this context that Volda Lawrence, Minister of Social Protection, has sought to reinforce the laws, stating that persons, whether they worked in Guyana or not, who are now living overseas are ineligible for Old Age Pension in Guyana.”
The Ministry of Social Protection therefore reiterated that persons will only be eligible for Old Age Pension if they satisfy the age, citizenry and residency requirements.
“The current policy that both the previous and current government have followed to date, dictates that persons applying for Old Age Pension must have been living in Guyana for at least two years preceding their application.”
The statement outlined that it is precisely this approach that was highlighted by the recently conducted audit as erroneous, since the law actually prescribes that the Old Age Pension applicant “must have been ordinarily resident in Guyana during the twenty years immediately preceding his [her] claim for pension.”
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