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Senate passes new scheme of Old Age pension

By ANDRE BAGOO Thursday, August 12 2010

click on pic to zoom in
Minister of the People Dr Glenn Ramadharsingh...
Minister of the People Dr Glenn Ramadharsingh...

CONTROVERSIAL LEGISLATION aimed at introducing a new scheme of old age pensions was passed in the Senate on Tuesday at 9.15pm without amendments after Minister of the People Glen Ramadharsingh back-tracked on a proposal which could have seen some pensioners get a monthly take-home income as much as $4,000.

In wrapping up debate of the Senior Citizens’ Grant (Amendment) Bill, Minister of the People Dr Glenn Ramadharsingh also ignored criticisms from both the Opposition and Independent benches which had warned that the legislation represented the People’s Partnership Government back-tracking on its manifesto promise to introduce a $3,000 pension for persons over 60.

“I want to assure this august house that this PP has the heart and passion to lift the lives of the senior citizens of Trinidad and Tobago,” Ramadharsingh said. He said the Government, upon entering office was, “faced with all the realities that you all are aware of. It had to confront not only the economic and financial realities, but also it has a duty to deliver on the promises it had made.”

Of the PP manifesto, he said, “a manifesto is a vision...(this) is a document that came from many documents from many partners. Therefore it is a road map to a place that we want to take Trinidad and Tobago...We did it. We promised it, we did it, and if necessary we will continue all the promises of the PP manifesto.”

The People’s Partnership 2010 General Election manifesto pledges that a PP Government would: “increase the value of the monthly old aged pension entitlement to $3,000.” The document pledges that the PP Government, “will replace the Senior Citizen’s Grant with Old Age Pensions and increase it to $3,000.”

However, the legislation passed on Tuesday introduces a scheme whereby only persons with an income of less than $500 will be entitled to $3,000. Thereafter, pension levels are reduced in relation to higher income classes.

The law passed on Tuesday also has a provision which subjects the levels of the stipends provided to be changed by a minister, subject to a negative resolution of the Parliament brought by an MP. This, some senators argue, means the pension is not really a pension–to which there would be a right–but a grant, as the quantum may be changed by a minister. The provision was added late at night during the debate of the legislation when the bill was in the House of Representatives in a July sitting.

During Tuesday’s debate, Ramadharsingh circulated an amendment to the legislation which would have seen persons over 65 with an income of no more than $3,000 receive a $1,000 pension, for a total take-home income of $4,000. However, the amendment was not pursued by the Government during the committee stage of the bill, with no explanation. Some senators had made debate contributions on the assumption that the amendment was going to be pursued by the State.

During the Committee Stage of the bill Independent Senator Corinne Baptiste-McKnight, who referred to the circulated amendment in her contribution to the debate, had to ask the chairman of the committee to clarify, whether or not, the provision was being abandoned. Baptiste-McKnight also circulated another amendment to remove the provision allowing the minister to make changes to the pensions unilaterally.

Ramadharsingh indicated in his winding-up that the Government would pursue no amendments.

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