Coverage of pension books issue was sensational
Stabroek News
January 18, 2002

Dear Editor,

The Stabroek News article entitled "Hundreds of pensioners unable to uplift books" seems to be a deliberate attempt to create chaos among some 70 000 pensioners.

Unfortunately, Stabroek News in their need to sensationalise an issue did not carry a balanced report. Yes, persons did have to wait a long time. Yes it was uncomfortable. But come on, practically, how could all of these persons receive their books in

one day? The new system is being put in place to rectify a number of problems that the old system had.

The article was simply not in the public's interest. I seem to recall an editorial published by the same media house stating that the role of a journalist is to serve the public's interest. What would have been in the public's interest is a report advising persons that the books are being issued and that it would take a period of time. It would have been in the public's interest for them to reassure the public that everyone eligible for a pension book will receive one and that the new system will eliminate their concerns about fraud.

Thus the immediate sacrifice of waiting a few days will be compensated by the long term benefits of the system. We know that the old folks are anxious to get their pension books but I believe that they are even more concerned about the fact that they (the country) were being robbed. I am sure that had Stabroek News carried positive articles reassuring them, the impact would have been far greater.

Yours faithfully,

R. Banks

Editor's note

Nothing in this report was sensationalised. It reflected what happened at the appointed centres when pensioners turned up from very early in the morning to collect their pension books. Hundreds of them were unable to uplift them.

It was the responsibility of the Ministry of Labour, Human Services and Social Security to advise pensioners by suitable notices or advertisements in advance that not all books could be distributed on the same day, that there might be long delays, that alternative dates would be set aside and what recourse was open to them if they were dissatisfied. Stabroek News is obviously not in a position to provide these assurances. Were this information made available to Stabroek News prior to the start of the distribution it would have been publicised. Indeed, just prior to the start of the distribution we carried a report in which Minister Shadick explained why the old system was being changed and why the new one would be better. Outside of this, the list of distribution centres was printed as a paid advertisement and no other information was provided.

In our follow up report yesterday, Minister Shadick acknowledged that there were problems and said that remedial steps would be taken.

The facts remain that some elderly and infirm pensioners waited as long as eight hours without getting their books, the distribution centres were inadequately manned, some of those in charge of the centres displayed attitudinal problems, there was no precise information to the waiting pensioners, it had not been made clear whether the books could be picked up at the same point the next day and many pensioners left in frustration. These are issues which the ministry has to provide information on and Stabroek News would certainly help to disseminate it.

No one expected a perfect system but based on the feedback of the many pensioners this newspaper has spoken to over the last two days they expected much better arrangements. We would have been neglecting our duty in not reporting on the very real complaints by the pensioners.