Thursday, August 28, 2014

That senior tomorrow … is you

Jamaican seniors enjoying Grandparents' Day

by Jean Lowrie-Chin | column on the Jamaica Observer | 28 August 2014 
A professional who is looking forward to retirement remarked that he told his family abroad to ‘get my room ready because Jamaica is no place to grow old.’  Folks, this has to change. We are all hoping to live long and not all of us have a room abroad to ‘get ready’. This was obvious as television news teams interviewed seniors at the Half Way Tree transport centre and at the National Council for Senior Citizens (NCSC) at West Kings House Road. 

As she contemplated the tripling of JUTC bus fares announced last Wednesday, one lady gave a litany of her ailments and said she had to take several buses multiple times per week to obtain her treatments – this would be a huge blow to her meagre budget.  Another gentleman at the NCSC said he would have to walk when the fares increase.

We know those familiar Election Day scenes: PNP and JLP team members drive their vehicles to homes of the elderly, collect them and take them to the polls. Some of these elderly can barely walk and are lifted into the cars, ever so gently. So much sweetness and light on Election Day!  The next time we see the elderly, they are participating in demonstrations about bad roads, porous bridges and wronged relatives, with not a politician in sight. 

In all fairness to Transport Minister Dr Omar Davies, he replied to a letter of protest from the seniors organisation CCRP within a day, explaining that the JUTC was in fact offering a 50% subsidy, and inviting representation at a meeting the next day. The excellent Syringa Marshall-Burnett attended the meeting but at the time of writing this column, the outcome is not known. Mrs Marshall-Burnett, who is Chair of the NCSC and a CCRP board member made an excellent point in the news report on Thursday evening: this fare increase may not bring the expected revenue because some of the seniors have told her that they simply won’t take the bus. They will just have to rely on the kindness of relatives and neighbours.

Mrs Marshall-Burnett and I both agreed that if seniors are not able to travel to hospitals and clinics for treatment of the various ailments that advancing years bring, their deteriorating health could end up costing the Government even more.  

Balancing Act
We know it is a balancing act but we need to see some balance in the way Government is spending taxpayers’ money. Our Cabinet and Parliament are comprised of Jamaicans who have offered themselves to serve their country; they are well paid and pensioned, unlike the over 80 percent of Jamaicans who have no pension whatsoever. 

Imagine, when poor Miss Mary buys a phone card, the GCT she pays is funding not only a basic salary for Cabinet members, but also fully maintained high-end vehicles complete with driver and bodyguard. They fly past Miss Mary at the bus stop – this struggling lady who is supporting their fancy lifestyle.  Clearly, our politicians need to revive in themselves that idealism that first motivated them to step forward. Those SUVs and well-staffed offices are not provided for profiling – they are provided for productivity. We have no account of how JUTC have sharpened their act since reports of waste and mismanagement. We have no figures explaining what salaries are being paid and how these increases were arrived at. 

Appeal to media
I am begging my media colleagues to stop quoting those politicians who say in response to citizens’ complaints that they spoke to higher authority.  Let them produce concrete evidence – an email string or text conversations.  People of both parties will make all sorts of claims especially in this Local Government election season. 

Let us be watchful and vocal, especially on behalf of the most vulnerable in our nation. Our elderly have given their best years to their families and their country. They are the pillars of our families and communities – they deserve to be respected and protected. As we all look forward to a comfortable old age, let us remember that whatever policies we put in place today to help our seniors will eventually benefit our own selves.

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