Five years is a long time – enough for a child to start and finish high school and do a lot of math in between. Or for an undergraduate student to complete their medical degree and begin their residency. Meanwhile, diligent employees in the human resources and accounting departments of a government department could sift through numerous moldy paper files to provide their managers with the information needed to calculate and reconcile someone’s pension.
Hopefully this last point will resonate with Finance Minister Nigel Clarke. And I’m also hoping with Darlene Morrison, the financial secretary, top civil servant and accountant in Dr. Clarke’s department. Because the final calculation of the pensions of public sector employees is the responsibility of this ministry. They are the ones who tell the Accountant General’s Department who to pay, what to pay and when to pay.
In this context, we hope that Dr. Clarke or Ms. Morrison, and preferably both, will read the letter from Valérie Noble-Myrie, published in this newspaper last Friday. Ms Noble-Myrie (we assume the person is female) describes herself as a retired public health nurse – since October 2017. That is five years ago.
Given that the normal retirement age at the time was 60, it is reasonable to assume that was Ms Noble-Myrie’s age in October 2017. She would now be at least 65. According to Ms. Noble-Myrie, she has spent more than 30 years in the public sector.
WAITING TO RECEIVE THE PENSION
But half a decade later, Ms. Noble-Myrie wrote in the gleaner that she is still waiting to receive her pension and is struggling to get a clear answer as to why she has not received it. She wonders if she will ever get it in her lifetime.
Ms. Noble-Myrie said: “If a problem is detected while reading his file, no one calls for verification. I think it’s safe to say that if one is not persistent and calls regularly for a follow-up, then his file is placed in folder 13.”
The government does not provide data on the average time between a pensioner’s application and the payment of his pension. Anecdotal evidence, however, suggests that Ms. Noble-Myrie’s experience is far from unique. Their frequent complaints indicate that public sector pensioners find it very difficult not only to register on the pension list, but also to stay there. There is the challenge of frequently proving they are alive and eligible. The rigidities of the system are not very favorable to the elderly.
Ironically, eliminating the problems, as described by Ms Noble-Myrie, was among the issues often raised by Dr Clarke when discussing pension reform legislation, which was passed months before the retirement. retirement of Mrs. Noble-Myrie. This law obliges public sector workers to contribute 5% of their salary to a pension fund under a defined benefit scheme. The retirement age was raised over five years in March this year to 65.
“Current employee information is on paper, which lengthens the period it takes to receive a pension,” said the Minister of Finance about one of the background papers on the logic of the pension reform. “If records were stored electronically, they would become easily accessible to allow quick calculation of pension benefits.”
As digitalization fits more broadly into efforts to improve public sector efficiency, its value for a pension system that covers more than 30,000 people – who are joined by perhaps a few thousand more each year. – would be invaluable. Indeed, a new digital human resources management system, supposed to give managers and employees instant access to their employment information, has been touted by Dr Clarke.
Maybe they just didn’t have time to transfer Ms. Noble-Myrie’s to the digital platform. Nevertheless, five years is a long time – enough to retrieve files from a department’s register, to decipher the scribbles in the one-third margin of paper documents, to examine pay slips and to determine the rate of accumulation of someone’s pension. It is certainly long enough for even pompous civil service bureaucrats to craft a convincing explanation for why a pension claim is not honored. That’s enough time to show respect and empathy.
Generally, retirees are not rich. Their pensions are important. For many, as Ms. Noble-Myrie pointed out, if it doesn’t come it can mean they may not be able to buy food, pay utility bills, pay doctor visits or filling prescriptions.
“On time,” she says, “Death would be the ultimate end.”
Clearly, neither Dr. Clarke nor Financial Secretary Morrison shares such a dystopian outlook. They will agree, however, that five years is far too long to come to a decision on a pension claim – and will not provide a clear explanation of why this is the case. It’s long enough to push people beyond the margins and boundaries.