Discarding valuable skills
Kaieteur News
January 18, 2007

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There has been much debate on Guyana adjusting upwards the age of retirement for public servants. In fact, this debate has been ongoing for more than two decades but the authorities seem reluctant to make any adjustment. For them, at age 55, it is time for a person to fade away from the work place.

However, one would have expected that with the rate of migration and the consequent shortage of skills, the authorities would have resorted to using all the skills at its disposal; that they would have reviewed the retirement age by now.

There is scarcely a country in the world where the retirement age is 55. In the United States people usually work until they feel they are too old or too incapacitated to continue. In other countries, the leaders proclaim that at age 55 a person is now maturing.

Guyana inherited that retirement age when this country was a colony and when at age 55 the Colonial Office felt that it was time for the public servant to return home from overseas to spend his last days, safe in the knowledge that his pension and gratuity would be enough to make him enjoy a comfortable life.

No longer are there people who require to head back to the Mother Country after spending long years in the colonies. These are people who give their best years to working in the public service and at age 55 are being asked to go out to pasture. In the first instance, the pension is not enough for them to live on because of inflation.

Secondly, many at 55 have a wealth of experience that the country needs but ignores. And it is no secret that countries in the Caribbean and even further afield simply sit back and wait for our retirees. They know the benefit of these people and they gobble them up as fast as they are released from the public service.

There is no policeman who left the force at 55 and who has remained at home. All of them have either gone on to practice law or to work with the many security forces in this country. Others have simply migrated because during their tenure in the police force their families had gone on and they were simply biding their time until they retire to take up residence in their adopted country.

And, while there, they gain meaningful employment and earn the kind of money they never earned back home. They also know that 10 years later, when they are at about 65 years old, they would qualify for social security which would more than suffice should they opt to return home. There are people whose social security benefits, when converted to local currency, amount to some $200,000 per month.

For some time now Guyana's education system has been heading southward. Increasingly more and more people are leaving school barely able to read or write. This is because the current crop of teachers lacks the ability to teach as is required. Indeed, the Education Ministry has been using retired teachers on a limited basis, using them to do remedial teaching in schools set up for that purpose.

But for the greater part, the Ministry has been failing to make maximum use of these people. Private institutions such as BEAMS have been using these teachers either as resource people to train others in the system or as assessment officers or advisers.

Adjusting the age of retirement is simply a matter of taking a Bill to the National Assembly. The government may believe that the smaller the workforce the smaller the wage bill but in the long run the cost to the country would be astronomical. A poorly educated nation is one that could see drastic moral decline as is the case of grown men molesting small girls, parents selling their young daughters to rich grown men simply because of poverty, and girls being lured to prostitution. Uneducated men often turn to a life of crime because in their view they have to live at all cost and one of the easiest ways to live is rob people.

Of interest is the fact that the labour force in the public service is overwhelmingly women who are at a grave disadvantage when it comes to controlling adolescent males. It is said that these adolescents need a firm hand, which translates into the need for men who can be used as role models.

There was a time when the Education Ministry was so desperate that it asked for voluntary teachers in the form of parents. That may once more be the case unless the government opts to use the available resources that it is casually putting out to pasture.