The culture of entitlement

People wait to enter the NIB South Regional Office in San Fernando in 2020. - File photo/Marvin Hamilton
People wait to enter the NIB South Regional Office in San Fernando in 2020. - File photo/Marvin Hamilton

The issue of retirement pensions is not one confined in business circles to the on-going debate about public servants and their entitlements.

Mr Imbert has serious problems on his hands trying to reconcile present and future national budget allocations to guarantee adequate pensions upon their retirement from full-time employment to all government employees past, present and future.

Past promises made to induce compliance have expensive consequences. And make no mistake about it, all public servants are entitled to pensions, every one of them.

Unlike many other newly independent economies, Trinidad and Tobago provides pensions not only for its public servants and employees of state enterprises, and for the judiciary but also, by contract, to those employed in essential services such as water, electricity, health, hospital, fire, internal and external communication, security and sanitation.

To these we can add entitlements to primary and secondary education, sports and cultural facilities and a plethora of social and economic benefits, not only for those employed by government.

As Dr Rowley pointed out recently, his remit covers everyone who is a citizen of the country, and some who are not.

Promises made in the heat of political fervour lead to entitlements in the future.

Dr Williams, in setting up the socialist system our government is based on, truly tried to ensure everyone, old and young, would be taken care of humanely and equally through the crises humanity is heir to. But he did it within a belief of shared discipline, production and tolerance. Not "freeness."

As it turns out 60 years later, though, while the law says that all persons are equal, some people feel they have a “right” to be considerably more equal than others. Even that the law should provide for them more equally.

Take the curious subject of the iron and metal dealers. For those who still believe in what they read and see in the media, the claim among the "iron men,” as they cleverly call themselves (a genius marketing touch close to “a beer is a Carib”), appears to be that the trade they pursue should be protected even though a significant part of it is based on theft and destruction of metal inputs into those services, essential to society; theft that particularly negatively affects the poor and unemployed trying to set themselves up in small entrepreneurial enterprises.

The iron men produce headlines threatening violence and “shut the country down” rhetoric.

They claim they are entitled to employment. Everyone has children to feed as well, including children brought up to believe in entitlement.

The children who whine: "I didn’t ask to be born!” People who claim the right to squat on crown land, the right to be provided with homes to live in, which is why Dr Williams encouraged the establishment of public housing.

Unfortunately, as was recently exposed by the HDC, people provided with shelter at peppercorn cost felt it was unnecessary to pay even that peppercorn, or to maintain their own homes.

A culture of entitlement is supported by threats of violence against a government that does not provide what people feel they are “entitled” to.

Fr Gerry Pantin, creator of Servol, the most successful NGO in the region, learned early, and repeated often, that people do not appreciate what they get for free.

Even a bird will not foul its own nest. But it appears that those who feel they are “entitled” may take, sell or deface what they are given and demand more, "as a right.”

Another “right,” is government pensions, which, unlike those in the private sector, are non-contributory, as are retirement grants for those over 65.

NIS pensions require 750 contributions or more – the minimum is 150 – so they are earned, but grants which are even more lucrative than NIS pensions are given for free to those who have not saved or contributed toward their old age.

No one complains.

A civilised society has to provide for those who genuinely cannot provide for their own basic needs: children, the sick and disabled and the elderly. But even those thus provided for are actually encouraged to adopt the entitlement culture.

But back to the entitlement to employment or “we will close the country down” which is obtaining growing political support from people I once respected.

Once it has been closed down, who will provide the jobs? Who will pay teachers and provide free school lunches?

As with domestic violence, you can’t beat or threaten love into a person. Or, outside of slavery, use violence to provide employment.

Surely “iron men” can find better ways to strategise?


"The culture of entitlement"

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