Government came in for heavy criticisms today, for its plan to restrict overseas-based Guyanese from accessing a Guyanese pension.
Opposition Chief Whip Gail Teixeira, stated that once pensions in the country are protected by the Constitution for contributions made as an employee this cannot be ‘touched’ and the same applies in other countries.
Teixeira, at a press conference earlier today said if a Guyanese, as defined within the Constitution, earns his/her pension in another country, it cannot be considered “double dipping” if that person applied and was granted approval for the non-contributory Old Age Pension in Guyana, which is provided for under the Poor Relief Law.
“This is the same Government that is encouraging people from the Diaspora and yet now is creating further disincentives. Is the minister aware that many Guyanese return here to live in Guyana after long years of toil and cold weather and hardships to live here on the pensions they have duly earned in another country and most have to return every six months to keep that benefit available?” the PPP Chief Whip questioned.
Therefore, she said, that by the Social Protection Minister Volda Lawrence’s recent statement of a two-year residency clause, the applicants would then become ineligible for the old age pension.
According to Teixeira, the Old Age Pension dates back in Law to over 100 years, and it was established so as to help the poor and vulnerable who may not have earned a public service pension, a National Insurance Scheme (NIS) pension, any private pension or even a parliamentary pension.
The PPP official said that the former administration, the PPP/C, had removed the “means test” which had started prior to 1994; that if one was earning a pension, one would not receive the old age pension. She reminded that the majority of persons who earn the old age pension are poor, in need of it and look forward to it to help them survive.
“Is the Minister by her statement returning to the pre-1992 position of the PNC government of stating one can only have one pension? The statement in the papers focuses on people in the interiors, especially those who live on the borders of Suriname, Brazil and Venezuela. This is the same government that she belongs to that promised that the old age pension would be increased to $20,000; this was an election promise”.
The Opposition Chief Whip pointed out that the Minister did not focus on the one percent who are upper middle class people, who also apply, and who also receive Old Age Pension, but instead chose to focus on the interior residents, most of whom are of indigenous descent and unable to earn NIS pensions.
Teixeira added that this once more is an act by the present administration where there is no accountability, no consultation and no transparency.
GINA recently reported Minister Lawrence as saying that the government will not tolerate any ‘double dipping’; meaning that persons living outside of Guyana will not be able to access a pension here as they are already getting a pension from the country in which they now live.
“We will be putting an end to persons who are ‘double dipping’…we have persons who believe that it is their right to live in a foreign country and collect their pensions here…we are saying no, it is not going to happen,” Minister Lawrence said.
She added that last year, this issue was brought to the attention of the staff of the ministry who were advised that they will be held responsible and surcharged where books are issued with them knowing that the persons in question not living in Guyana.
According to GINA, Lawrence said the issue of ‘double dipping’ is not limited to accessing pension, but also public assistance for school-aged children. The APNU/AFC minister explained that some students are beneficiaries of public assistance in Guyana, but they also benefit from similar assistance in neighbouring Brazil.