The print media have been in the forefront in highlighting, at various times, letters voicing the predicament of different categories of people who have become a financial burden to others.
It is unfortunate that the pensioners of this country are taken for granted. Their appeals have fallen on deaf ears. Theirs is a legitimate cause for justice. However, in recent times, the President was kind enough to restore the pension voucher they were deprived of by a previous minister.
Living costs are set to soar even further as the global food and economic crises deepen. Faced with heavy defence expenditure, the world's largest cabinet and financial mismanagement, the government is struggling to halt the skyrocketing prices of goods and services. It is against this backdrop that pensioners are pleading for more, like Oliver Twist, like any other working individual, to keep the wolf from the door.
The last wage hike of 50 percent for public servants and much less for pensioners has evaporated after the purchasing power of money recently depreciated against galloping inflation. Right along, pensioners have been discriminated against in the matter of pension hikes and the cost-of-living allowance. They received only a 10 percent increase from Rs. 500 to a maximum of Rs. 1, 200. While Ministers and MPs are entitled to large and special increments, pensioners are given the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table. These retired persons have committed their lives for the betterment of the country. We feel the pinch of high living costs, but nobody gives a thought to the plight of pensioners, who also have dependents to clothe and feed. Besides, with age, many pensioners become vulnerable to illness. When old age sets in, you can expect to be confronted with various types of diseases and you have to pay your medical bills.
Those afflicted with diseases have to fight not only disease, but also the high prices of drugs and medicines.
Traditionally, in any government’s budget, when there is a salary increase, pensioners are entitled to half the value of the salary increase, but usually they get much less, while government servants are granted much more, plus a full living allowance. This unequal treatment amounts to discrimination. This “old-age bar” should be eliminated.
So how about an injection of Mahinda Chinthana for Senior Citizens in the upcoming budget? This question was raised in Parliament last week. Speaking on the subject of pensioners, Minister of State Revenue and Finance Ranjith Siyambalapitiya remarked: “We are now in the process of realising the dreams of Mahinda Chinthana.”
Only time will tell whether this dream will become a reality.
By M. Azhar Dawood,