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Govt, opposition haggle over budgetary allocation for pension increase

Juan Edghill

Opposition member and former Junior Finance Minister Juan Edghill is adamant that the government’s 2015 budget has no allocation for the announced increase to pensioners.

He raised that matter on the floor of the House Wednesday August 26, and declared that the government’s response to the matter did not satisfy the question.

The government has promised pensioners an increase of $3000 on the $13,125 the former government was offering. Edghill  explained that the total sum for social assistance and old age pension under the former Ministry of Human Service and the new Social Protection Ministry is some $8b for 2015. In 2014, that sum, he said, at the old pension rate and public assistance rate was summed at some $7.8b.

The subject Minister, Volda Lawrence told the House that there are some 43,500 pensioners. Edghill  said if one should multiply the number of pensioners by the $3000 increase and then multiply it by four it would reflect the total pension amount for the budgeted period.  This amount Edghill contended would be around $600m, but what is in the budget reflects an increase of around $186m. He thus asked where the government planned to get the difference to fund this $600m increase.

That was when the subject minister pointed the opposition to the aggregated pension increase sum of $2.7b saying that the old age pension increase was in that amount. Edghill did not buy that explanation since according to him the pension increases reflects “government pensions” which includes increases for all retired public servants, those existing and new pensioners.

The Minister maintained however that the old age pension increase is in the pension increase total identified.

Edghill went on to say that apart from that contention, the electricity and water subsidy was scrapped which means the money no longer goes to the electricity and water agencies. He said if the math is done it will prove that the actual pension growth is only about $1000.

This, he insinuated, would mean that the money from the water and electricity subsidy was merely redirected to the pension and indeed there a meager increase. During the opposition leader Bharrat Jagdeo’s budget debate speech he accused the government of giving with one hand and taking away with the other. This contention, it was claimed, is an indication of that.

Edghill claimed that, “The reality, based on the (budget) figures, is that pensioners are not guaranteed the $17,000 that was announced.”