Payment of an old age pension constitutes but one of several state-underwritten costs to ensure a relatively acceptable standard of living for the aged. Computing the actual overall financial cost to the Government of Guyana proves somewhat challenging since the variety of services engaged and the crisscrossing of state responsibility remains something of an accounting maze.
But financial costs are only one part of the equation.
The Government Pensioners’ Association of Guyana acknowledges the difficulty in establishing precise figures but suggests that planning for the future as a retired person should be of paramount importance.
Former teacher and current Treasurer of the Association,Vilma Lynch is adamant that planning has strong advantages. “If you are going to work for little bit money, you need to get our young people to understand that you can’t earn $10 and spend $12, regardless of what you earn you put aside something,”she said in an interview with Insight.
Lynch feels that paying contributions to the National Insurance Scheme is what has ensured her a less stressful old age.
The minimum government pension is calculated at G$18000 per month.Public servants are entitled to government pension which is calculated at half of the salary they received while on the job. Pensioners interviewed by Insight were however quick to point out that for them “half” meant half of their salary, which was just about $1600 a month when they were employed as public servants.
Across the board, increases in salaries in the public sector over the years have bumped that pension up to G$18000.
“Some pensioners are saying what you should have is parity, and I think the Human Services Minister is looking at that; that whatever your salary would have been equivalent to today you should be getting a pension in keeping with that,”says Wendell Roberts, Senior Vice President of the Association.
But there has been debate about parity.
“Your pension is linked to your salary that you worked for, a portion of your salary goes to your pension and that is linked to parity because where will they get this money for that increase,” Roberts added.
Some pensioners tallied their monthly income for Insight. This is one scenario:
- $18000 -Government Pension
- $18000 - National Insurance Scheme Pension
- $12500 – Old Age Pension
- $48500 – Total
Pensioners who work exclusively for private companies may not benefit from such an amount. If they paid their contributions to the National Insurance Scheme and their records are intact, they would get half of the salary they once earned and the Old Age Pension.
Some non-governmental organisations chip in. One church, for example, gives its elderly members a monthly pension. Association member, Lynette Seabra, explained that the St Andrew’s Kirk located in downtown Stabroek gives its elderly members a small pension to aid with monthly expenses and food.
Public transportation and health care are also among the more urgent needs pensioners require but remain critically deficient.
Guyana has a mini bus industry. It is privately run and critics suggest that commuters are subjected to an industry which thrives on a lack of regulations and limited price controls. They contend that this results in high and unregulated fares and commuters at the mercy of often rude and reckless drivers.
Government pensioner, Lynette Seabra, said many of her colleagues have permits to travel free on the ferries but there is one important shortcoming:
“Most of us here have those little cards that you travel on boats, but there is no boat to travel on, you have bridges to cross so as it stands there is no help as it relates to transportation,”she told Insight.
Among the Association’s recommendations is a government run bus service specifically for the elderly. This, it said, should run on a scheduled basis to ensure that the elderly get to health care centers or post offices for their pension.
A responsive health care system is also on the elderly’s wish list. Association members spoke of what they considered to be a flawed system.
“The thing is if you go 6 o’clock you go late … regardless of what time you go, when you hand in your card, depends on when they find your chart,” says one pensioner as she recounts a day at the clinic.
She said when the patient’s chart is found, it does not guarantee medical attention since the doctor on duty may have to “step out” at that time.
Another pensioner explained that the Out-Patient Department at the Georgetown Public Hospital, the largest hospital in the country, has a system that is a bit more sympathetic to the elderly. She said department staff would allow a number of students in uniforms and elderly as part of their first crowd in the clinic every morning. She said that once in the department, members of the public would still have to wait on medical personnel and there is usually no priority given to the elderly members.
And then there is the wait for medication …
“Sometimes you line up and when you reach they don’t have,”she said.
Senior Vice President of the Association Wendell Robert believes this should not be the case.
“What I find worrying about this, is that if the hospital knows what type of people and illnesses coming, why is medication short?”she asked.
“Giving Hope to the Elderly” the 1998 Report of the Senior Citizens Policy Development Committee has listed nutritional disorder, hypertension, diabetes, arthritic disorders and mental disorders as the common medical problems affecting the Elderly. Those medical problems were listed in the Ministry of Health’s National Health Plan of Guyana for the period 1995-1999.
The Committee felt that medication for common health issues should never be in short supply and recommended that a “health visitors” scheme for senior citizens be introduced so that the health of senior citizens can be monitored to ensure “an emergency supply of essential drugs is always available.”
For a group without time on its side, delays in dealing with such shortcomings effectively are not easy for pensioners to contemplate.