Many citizens are very much disappointed in the manner in which our older folks are currently being treated considering the lofty promises made by the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) coalition during the 2015 General Election campaign. It could be recalled that when the APNU/AFC were in Opposition, they used every opportunity at their disposal to criticise the then People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Administration for not adequately taking care of senior citizens and had vowed that once they form the next government, the situation would change for the better.
Now, after two and a half years of their being at the helm of Government, citizens are still waiting for most of these promises to be fulfilled. For example, the parties had promised that within the first 100 days in office, pensions will “significantly” increase. They had also promised that under an APNU/AFC Government, elderly folks will be able to live a more comfortable, safe and dignified life as the necessary policy mechanisms will be put in place to ensure they (pensioners) enjoy their ‘golden years’.
Since the coalition Government took office, they did give pensioners various increases. But were such increases adequate to take care of their needs? In his most recent budget presentation last Monday, the Finance Minister announced that Old Age Pensions would be increased by $500, taking the new sum to $19,500 per month. As part of its PR gimmick, the Administration has been boasting as if this paltry increase would make such a huge difference in the lives of pensioners as it relates to their living a comfortable life.
As with similar situations, politicians tend to use numbers to manipulate the populace into thinking that they are better off when compared to what obtained before. However, if one were to do a basic survey, it would prove that pensioners in Guyana are struggling daily to meet their basic expenses and more often than not, are forced to depend on others to help out.
It could be recalled that the coalition Government withdrew the electricity and water assistance programme which had started under the previous Government. For many, this was viewed as a very unpopular move which led to severe hardships for our senior folks.
The general view is that a meagre increase in Old Age Pension cannot be equated with the benefits that were offered through the provision of electricity and water subsidies. Prior to 2016, pensioners across Guyana received relief from Government through the water and electricity subsidies, coupled with a monthly pension of $13,125. This is not to say that everything was fine for pensioners under the previous Government; in fact, it was far from that. The ideal situation is that every succeeding government should aim to build on and improve what existed before.
The Budget debates have begun in the National Assembly, and there is still time before the estimates are finalised and passed into law. We urge the Government to seriously reconsider the allocations for old age pensioners, as the sum allocated is inadequate if one were to consider the sharp increase in commodity prices and the high utility bills pensioners are saddled with.
If we are going to ensure that our senior citizens enjoy the “good life”, then they must, first of all, be entitled to a decent and liveable pension. Added to this is that it would be a great joy for many if the Government were to take a decision to have the water and electricity subsidies restored.
That said, the Administration must continue exploring ways and means of creating a more comfortable life for all our senior citizens. We had stated before that there was need for special care homes, retirement homes, special transportation and priority treatment for our elderly. Also, there must be increased focus on long-term health care of older adults suffering from mental disorders, as well as to provide caregivers with education, training, and support.