The Budget – ‘Cutting cloth’ season
October 5, 2017
Regulation is the method par excellence
October 5, 2017

Time for better service to seniors

Vernon Khelawan

We listened intently to the 2017–18 budget presentation in Parliament by the Finance Minister Colm Imbert but it sounded like we had heard similar speeches for years with very little implementation. It boiled down to the same old, same old, bringing more hardship to the low and middle classes, with transportation, grocery, pharmacy and bank fees likely to increase. All in all, the presentation left many of us still wanting.

That’s all for the budget for now. In this piece I want to deal with how seniors are treated in this country – without any respect and dignity concomitant with their status in the society and the role they might have played in its development.

There are but a few institutions in the country where service is a real watchword and where senior citizens are treated with empathy, kindness and care. Somehow or the other this applies to so many government offices. The personnel are just not civil, maybe that’s why they changed from ‘civil servant’ to ‘public servant’.

I will give two examples of how our public servants treat with older people. A journalist colleague, who contributed to our development in his way, not getting his monthly pension cheque, went to the office to query what was wrong. He met other people waiting there for some time, since there was no one at the counter. After an inordinate period of time an employee came out, collected some papers on a desk and retreated to the back office out of sight.

After about ten minutes another worker came out and said “All who seeing about cheques form a line on the right side” of the very small office. Everybody complied. All these old people, some mothers and fathers, stood quietly in a line. Still nobody came to the counter. Another painful wait of about half hour for these people.

Finally, another employee came out and told the crowd they were lined up on the wrong side, they should have been on the left side! The crowd of seniors obediently went to the other side and then she found out the names and distributed some cheques, then without any compunction told the rest to come back another day. No apologies. No reasons why their cheques were not there. No idea of how they got there or whether they had the money to return. Nothing.

The second instance happened a few years ago to my wife and I. It was at the ID card office at the Tunapuna Administrative Complex where we had gone to get our ID cards. The elevator was not working, nothing new for government offices, so we walked up the stairs to the office.

It was void of customers, no one at the counter, but three employees having a conversation about 50 feet away. After a five-minute wait and no action, I asked whether we were invisible, because our presence at the counter seemed not to have made any difference. It was after my outburst the trio scattered and an employee came forward to see what we needed.

That is how we treat our seniors in this country, as though they are unimportant but rather a bother as the young among us will never become old one day. But this does not apply to the pension office alone. There are hundreds of incidents every day. This type of service is endemic all over this seemingly loveless society.

It’s time we show some love and care to our senior citizens.

Deepest condolences to the family of Clive Pantin. He was my teacher at Fatima College many years ago.