It seems as though good sense has prevailed and Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has chosen to amend the pension promises that the People's Partnership made on the election platform. This is an acceptance of the point that I made in the two previous commentaries in this space that T&T could not afford to implement the People's Partnership's full pension promises at this time. Speaking at the Office of the Prime Minister on Tuesday, Mrs Persad-Bissessar stressed that the Government would increase the old age pension/senior citizens grant from $2,500 to $3,000 ONLY for those who receive it at this point.
I interpret that to mean that this Government will use the existing income qualification to determine those who receive the pension or grant. Just to reiterate, the promises as made by the parties that now form the administration comprised the following:
�2 1) Reinstatement of the Old Age Pension Act. Pensions must be an entitlement and not a grant. (Manifesto promise)
�2 2) Pension laws must be amended to provide for the national and regional portability of pension benefits and for improved pension benefits. (Manifesto promise)
�2 3) Remove all restrictions and qualifications for people to receive an Old Age Pension and thus every citizen will automatically receive a State-funded Old Age Pension upon the attainment of pensionable age. (Manifesto promise)
�2 4) Increase the value of the monthly old aged pension entitlement to $3,000. (Manifesto promise)
�2 5) Lower the pensionable age from 65 to 60 (Promise in newspaper advertisements
It seems, therefore, that the current administration will implement promises 1, 2 and 4 but defer (or repudiate) the third and fifth promises. It's interesting that the Prime Minister is reported to have denied ever making the promise to lower the qualifying age to receive a pension from 65 years to 60, as it is there in newspaper advertisements carried in the Guardian and the Newsday. One suspects, though, that the Prime Minister would be right in saying that she personally never promised to lower the age from 65 to 60.
One wonders whether she would deny the newspapers advertisements or claim that they were issued in error. The Prime Minister's decision to limit the pension promises to those that the Government can afford to fund at this time must be seen in the context of the current financial situation that the country faces. This includes the fact that the country is projected to record a fiscal deficit of $7.7 billion in the current financial year.
But it should also be seen in the context of the fact that not even the Central Statistical Office (CSO) knows for sure how many people over 60 there are in this country. On June 7, the CSO issued the Labour Force Bulletin for the fourth quarter of 2009. That document indicated that there are 169,000 people 60 and over in this country. The bulletin is based on a scientific sample survey conducted by the CSO.
However, the mid-year estimate of the population, published in the Review of the Economy document (appendix 11) which accompanied the 2010 budget documents estimated that there were 131,269 people 60 and over in this country as at the middle of last year. The mid-year population review is based on reports of births, deaths and net migration (both inward and outward migration) as received by the registrars of births and deaths and the Immigration department.
The only way to know the size of the over-60 population for sure is by conducting a census and counting everybody. The last population census was conducted in 2000 and one was due to start on May 17. This was postponed because of the general election. Censuses in this country are generally not held during the rainy season (for obvious reasons) so it is quite likely that the official 2010 census will be delayed until early next year.