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Jamaica, the place of choice to grow old gracefully and die with dignity

Franklin Johnston

Friday, May 10, 2013    

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The unquote above is not found in Vision 2030 but it should have been. It would, of course, be a lie. The State does little for the aged, and serious handicaps exist for those who try to retire well. Most of us cannot afford to retire. We re-tyre, that is, put on new tyres to work more. Your chances of growing old are not good; if you are lucky not to be murdered young, this is still not a good place to grow old and die.

You may be jobless, have a job; avid churchgoer or atheist but our criminals, like rain, fall on the just and the unjust; predators on the vulnerable — young, retired and old. Do not grow old here unless you believe in God, for even with the grill and the door, the fear is inside and only He can bring the calm you need.

No Cabinet intended us harm or wished us ill; they just did not deliver. We were badly led but then we were not the best followers. We grew old with personal and national failure and did not show leaders our displeasure. We did the time but still have nothing. We say "Honourable" and "Most Honourable", but both are well decorated failures. The IMF, a bank for bad risks and bad debt, had us waiting to exhale for three years, we can still barely breathe and the hardship has not yet started. To "grow old gracefully and die with dignity" is not in the Vision. You are on your own with that, pasero!

Some 40 per cent of our population is older; many exited the labour market willingly, some reluctantly. They say Vision 2030 does not have the aged in its mantra, as young people do not like to contemplate mortality. But for activism and advocacy the aged would be wretched. The aged are abused as useless and "taking up space". Many youth abandon old relatives. The old man wandering the streets is someone's father, but no one is looking for him. No one cares. There is not so much fear as an acceptance that this is what happens to older people and most feel they did not prepare for old age. Life is a bitch!

The hours spent visiting two "warehouses for the aged" was unsettling. Some had not seen their kids for months and cited our nation's respect for youth, wealth, power and disdain for the poor aged. We do not do ugly. As skin sags, eyes bulge, lips lose control, body parts begin to go south and hair grows in strange places, youth feel threatened by this reminder of mortality.

Do you know there are people who flog their parents to take revenge for something that happened in their youth? To hear of the aged being spanked or harangued for not eating, for soiling themselves, for not remembering, is distressing. Crazy! Corporal punishment for demented adults? Let's all die at 50. One man who once had a good job is convinced someone is taking his pension. Is he for real? We must now help him.

The pension paradox is real. The developed world is extending the working life but we are doing the opposite. Why? Retirement age in Europe is creeping up to 70 for a number of sound economic and life expectancy reasons.

Take Alec Ferguson, manager of Manchester United who retires at the end of the season after 27 years. This 71-year-old earns the equivalent of J$7 million a day and people do not want him to retire. Why? He prospered the club, produced 13 Premier League titles, not in his early years only, but up to recently. He is so crucial to the business, the timing had to be linked to the NYSE closing. Most people get a job, have five years of growth, 25 years producing year-five success and five years of diminishing returns, then retirement.

We cannot romanticise 35 years of service unless, like Sir Alec, you produce big winners up to the year you retire. The future is that most people will have four to six jobs. Brains go dormant after years in one job; creativity and production go south. The worker who has five contracts in his 35 years delivers value as each contract is a fresh start. There is a notion that you coast after five years in a job as you know it — nonsense!

You should produce daily and pay toward the pension you want. The days of tenured job from start to retirement are past. We must all live on performance today, not reputation, and pension must be an aggregation of all five or six contracts or honoraria as agreed. Our tragedy is, while the public benefit was not delivered, many in public service did well for themselves and their family.

Europe cannot afford people to retire at 60 and 65. Pensions evolved in full employment and reserves grew as no one was on pension. Fathers, sons, brothers died in wars and the pension was a reward. Part of the workforce is a shambles as many are on welfare or choose not to work; immigrants help, but new policy will soon cut access.

People are fitter, live better, longer. Diet, exercise, corporate and community fitness; run, jog, walk, all work. In Europe, cyclists are legion. At 5:00 am the streets are busy with shorts-clad construction workers off to work on well-lit bicycles. By 7:30 am office workers are weaving through rush-hour traffic, and by 9:00 am service workers move out to stores and restaurants. Cycle parking is as much as for cars. The cycle is transport and health. All day nimble Lycra- and Goretex-clad cycle couriers weave with heart-stopping skill through traffic, suited and booted ladies and gents too. Longevity is growing.

Here the benefits of modern medicine are also evident. We live longer, yet the IMF says we are to be retired promptly. Why? -- For economic, social and practical reasons. The jobless need help. Imagine all these degrees but you never worked. Retirees can draw their pension and free up the salary.

A 40-year veteran gets twice a new worker's pay; retire and two can get jobs. If education, security, health or the civil service were effective we might say "look how well they did, the nation prospers, keep them!" But these services are no credit to the retirees. Some ministers and 20 MPs should also go on retirement. They have lyrics, repeat the figures, but do not perform. Some worked hard and we thank them, but they dug a hole and the depth of our despair is their legacy. Our neighbours built upwards and prospered.

The Queen of Jamaica is to retire soon. As I write, it is still ahead, but at the Throne Speech this year she will have son Charles at her side (King Charles and Queen Camilla is not my style). She fulfilled her job description, managed thousands of ambassadorial functions, 22 visits to Canada, 18 to Australia and six to Jamaica — top states — and pulls billions in tourism for London. She did well and Jamaica is special to her, as many staff in royal households are of Jamaican stock. Our own prelate Rose Wilkin may well bless the new royal great-grandchild. We "scrub up" well when we are abroad, even if we are terrors at home. If Portia is going to exit the monarchy, the door is now wide open. Stay conscious, my friend!

Dr Franklin Johnston is a strategist and project manager

franklinjohnstontoo@gmail.com

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