By Makeida Antonio
The main office of the Antigua and Barbuda Social Security Board was the target of more than 300 residents yesterday, who picketed the Long Street and Cross Street premises to protest the habitual late payment of pensions and other benefits.
As workers and cruise ship visitors went about their business in the city, elderly citizens and their family members lined the streets from about 7am, and displayed placards that demonstrated their disapproval of late payments, and despite passing showers, they kept coming from all directions.
One man in his late 60s described to Observer his ongoing struggles as a result of months of late pension payments from Social Security.
“The pensioners should not be treated this way because I have been paying Social Security from the inception. This year made me 69 and sometimes I have to go out and do a little thing because of the fact that Social Security not coming the way it’s supposed to come,” he shared.
He also admitted that he feels burdened by mounting bills when he does not receive his pension on time.
“Sometimes it puts me in a little strain so I have to still do something to keep things going because you know I have to eat, I have to pay bills. Sometimes my bills run up because of the fact that the money is not coming, then sometimes it seems like there is no relief,” the elder said.
Another man who clearly was not a pensioner said that he was picketing for his future in Antigua and Barbuda because he is currently watching his relatives live in financial uncertainty as senior citizens.
“I will become a senior citizen some day if I live. I have senior citizen family members who are subjected to all of this, can’t get their pension on time and the government seems not to care. The way in which the Prime Minister speaks to people with some disdain as though it is not their right to a pension on time, this is why I’m out here, to support people who cannot come out,” he said.
“I can’t live as if I am not going to get old. My mother is on pension so I am here to represent my mother and everybody else who are pensioners and not getting their pensions.”
The picket was organised by United Progressive Party (UPP) candidate for St John’s City South, Franz deFreitas, who explained that the purpose of the demonstration was to display to the government that senior citizens desire the money they worked hard for.
“We have hundreds of people at this time; I would suggest over 300 people that are here this morning standing up for the rights of senior citizens and pensioners outside of the Social Security office on Long and Cross Street in Antigua and Barbuda,” he said during the activity yesterday.
DeFreitas, who co-hosts Observer’s Voice of the People show, also drew attention to non-payment of other outstanding benefits — such as maternity and sick leave — that are yet to be received by some beneficiaries.
“People are tired of the disrespect. They are tired of the non-payments for senior citizens as well as short-term maternal benefits that have been outstanding in some cases for more than six months after people would have had children and other injuries.
“If the people of Antigua and Barbuda don’t stand up, then forever we’re going to be taken advantage of and abused. We have to stop this now,” deFreitas added.
About 90 minutes into the picket, the police attempted to disperse the ballooning crowd which they estimated was approaching 400 people. An Inspector of Police said that he was concerned over what appeared to be a lack of social distancing as mandated under the Public Health Act.
However, attorney-at-law Charlesworth Tabor reminded the authorities of the Public Order Act which says that people are allowed to picket once there is no obstruction of traffic or pedestrians.
The UPP candidate for St John’s Rural North Pearl Quinn-Williams, who was participating in the picket, was approached by police to relocate from the steps of the Social Security building. However, she refused to do so.
“The police came and asked me to go on the other side and I told him that I am not blocking the entrance and he said that we need to be a certain distance away. I told him ‘no that is not the law’, so I was not going to move.
“He said to me ‘just for peace sake’ and I said ‘no, for peace sake you don’t trouble me because I am not breaking the law’,” Quinn-Williams told Observer following the police interaction.