Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has said many citizens have taken for granted the impact of several social programmes on their lives.
While delivering an address at the sod-turning ceremony for the new Sangre Grande Hospital, the Prime Minister responded to those who criticised his labelling of old age pension payments as a poverty eradication programme.
“The idea is that cash is handed out to people to make their way in this country. And I have to be accosted by a lady that is so angry, so upset that the Prime Minister could have told the United Nations that we have a poverty eradication programme in our country. And she felt insulted by the fact that I could have said that,” said Rowley who explained that $4.7 billion was allocated to the Ministry of Social Development for the pension programme in the last fiscal year, with an additional 272 million in supplement funds to bolster the programme.
“Almost $5 billion, the majority of it going to people in an unfunded by the recipient programme called old age pension. Old age pension’s a pension which the government alone funds. The cash comes straight from the treasury. There’s no contribution from the recipient and that is in fact our social safety net.”
Rowley took a journey through his own past, and mentioned that his grand father received a pension of $14 which helped support his family. He said the increase in pensions over the years has been allowed for many families to be supported through the payment.
“As the country is able to do more, we do a bit more and more. If we were able to make it $10,000 we might have done that. In some countries, you do have payments which are quite substantial a few countries that are very wealthy have big cash in hand so they do a bit more. But most countries there is no such program but we take it for granted,” said the Prime Minister who also argued that many countries did not have similar arrangements in place.
“It is not available in every Caribbean country. As a matter of fact that kind of payment is not available in most countries in the world. When I said that in the UN, there were 193 countries were present. That payment is not available in the vast majority of those countries. Where you don’t make a contribution and you are guaranteed to get a payment at the end of the month from a social safety net programme,” he said.
The Prime Minister also noted that the state’s financial support of education was also being taken for granted by the population.
“In our country, that cost is borne by the state. From kindergarten, early childhood centres through primary school all the way up to even post-graduate degrees at university. It is paid for by the state. Take it for granted. Be insulted if the Minister of Education says that,” he said, “Don’t appreciate that it is being done at other people’s expense because while you are getting it somebody else is being deprived of something else but you don’t care as long as you get it.”
The Prime Minister pointed to the student loan system in the United States as a contrast.
“The richest country in the world, the United States. Go talk to them, about how much they owe that they could never run away from. Once you incur it. You owe it and you will pay for it. That is your student loan. Student loan, you want to get your degree, you don’t have your cash in hand upfront to spend your own money? The only other option for you to get that degree is if you lucky and you get a scholarship,” he said.
According to a September study, more Americans are in debt due to Student loans for college education than they are for credit cards and car loans.
The New Yorker reported that 45 million Americans were in debt due to Student loans totalling over $1.5 trillion.
In Trinidad and Tobago, recipients of government scholarships and individuals who use Government Assistance for Tuition Expense (GATE) are required to work in Trinidad and Tobago for a specified timeframe as a stipulation for the financial support afforded.