Financial experts discuss Social Security shortcomings

Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance and Minister of Public Works Lennox Weston and Montserrat- based economic and financial analyst, Peter Queeley, on Observer’s Big Issues programme yesterday.
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By Makeida Antonio

Two finance bosses have analysed the trend of Social Security being unable to pay all eligible pensioners in a timely manner.

While Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance Lennox Weston has condemned the lateness in which the country’s elderly receive their monthly Social Security payments, he has called upon the nation’s trade unions to assist in making funds available to its members when they reach the age of retirement.

“I think our trade unions are going to have to develop contributory retirement funds so individuals can put away whether it’s one hundred dollars a month, whether its fifty dollars a month, or if you can afford more, as soon as you start to work you need to put away monies for retirement, and not depend solely on Social Security because as you can see, unless we find another ten to fifteen thousand more jobs in Antigua, we are going to have that imbalance,” Weston suggested on Observer’s Big Issues programme yesterday.

This possible suggestion was made by the Minister of Works as he commented on a recent development involving a senior citizen robbing a supermarket, indicating that he believes the concept of Social Security is seeing a global decline.

On October 15, an elderly man was caught on cameras at Perry Bay supermarket around 10:30 am strolling through the aisle picking up items. He proceeded to the cashier to pay for some goods, however, he was stopped and searched while he attempted to leave the establishment. It was during this search that the man was found with two packs of ling fish, worth thirty-seven dollars.

He was charged with larceny and appeared in the St. John’s Magistrate Court in front of Chief Magistrate Joanne Walsh on October 19. He told the court that he was not sure what came over him, as he did not receive his Social Security payment and he was sorry for the situation.

Weston commented in response to this matter, “I don’t know the facts about whether what he said is correct, that he had no savings, he had no friends, he had no church, he had nobody to help him so that is why he went to steal. I doubt that it’s true. What I can say though is that I’m appalled that our pensioners have to wait to collect their pensions.”

The St. Phillip’s South MP went on to say that a situation such as this shows the need for payments to pensioners be made on time so that criminal-minded individuals cannot use lack of timely issuing of funds by Social Security as an excuse.

“As you know, people who are due pensions are elderly who tend to be sick, you have worked hard, you have contractual obligations to Social Security to pay you on time. I’m not certain that his justification for stealing is correct, but what I do know is we definitely need to get Social Security paying its benefits on time, so those who we are obligated to pay can receive their pension on time, and those who feel obliged to do something illegal won’t have that cover,” he said.

Peter Queeley, a Montserrat-based economic and financial analyst responded, “I think it’s unfortunate that we are hearing those types of developments; I think that the pensioner perhaps would have had other options besides stealing, so I don’t want to say that he should have explored those other options first. I am certain that he would have come across the church, Red Cross, there’s a whole host of not-for-profit organisations in Antigua that can provide some assistance. I am never one to encourage one to go on the illegal side, but at the same time, it highlights clearly the need for us to fix this Social Security scheme, and to get them paying on time.”

Weston said that the government has more than doubled its contribution to Social Security since the pandemic, even though this effort surpasses the amount that the government is legally obliged to contribute. He unveiled that the government has raised eleven million dollars that it is going to transfer by next week to the Social Security Fund to reduce the late payments.

Queeley, who has worked with the Ministry of Finance with the Government of Antigua and Barbuda in the areas of budgeting and economic management, explained that outstanding obligations prior to the Covid-19 pandemic should be factored into why there is a shortfall in the Social Security Fund.

“The Social Security Fund is a statutory body so the government has to ensure that the statutory bodies perform according to their contractual obligations. From what I can recall from the Antigua situation, there perhaps may be some debts owed by the government also to the Social Security Fund, and so whereas the government would be meeting its contributions on time, at a time like this when the fund is affected by the shortfall in terms of employment stemming from the whole Covid-19 crisis, the government may be called upon to put the extra funds which is like paying down on its debts; to me, that is the shortfall that the fund has.”

The Montserrat Social Security Board of Directors member noted that the government’s cash flow is also being affected by the pandemic so it has a ripple effect on the government’s ability to meet its obligations to pensioners.

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