~ Large turnout at pension seminar ~
MAHO--Pension awareness should be embedded in the community just as much as sickness insurance.
This is the view of Finance Minister Martin Hassink, who delivered a thought-provoking presentation to the large gathering of seniors and other persons who attended the general pension fund APS' pension awareness seminar at the Sonesta Maho Beach Resort on Friday.
"In general we make sure that we insure ourselves against the cost of sickness or car insurance against accidents and homeowners insurance against natural disasters or fires. However, the insurance necessary to cover the cost of our old age, we easily tend to postpone or ignore," Hassink told the large number of attendees – approximately 150 persons.
Dignitaries in attendance included Governor Eugene Holiday; Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams; Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sports Patricia Lourens-Philip; Ombudsman Nilda Arduin and Advisory Council Vice Chairperson Mavis Brooks-Salmon.
Hassink said some of the excuses persons make for not arranging a pension are that the pension premiums can be high; that the fund may be out of money by the time the person is able to collect their pension; that the person may be deceased before they are able to collect their pension; that they don't need a pension plan or that they will keep working until they die.
"There are many other excuses not to, or to not yet join a pension plan," Hassink said. He noted however, that "we should also realise that for many persons it is not just a choice. For many people the basic net income is just enough to maintain a very basic minimal quality level of life. For many people there is simply no room for saving money for the future or for paying premiums into a pension plan."
The minister said there is still quite a large segment of the business community that doesn't provide their employees with a pension plan. "During times of strong economic growth our population was young and old age hardly existed and not within eyesight. Time has changed, time progressed and slowly, but surely our population is getting older and more and more people feel the consequences of the excuses not to have saved or joined in a pension plan. It simply means in many cases creation of poverty," he said.
He said saving or paying pension premiums indeed means that one's current net spending power would reduce, however, "be aware that time goes faster than we realise and the prospect of living in poverty after years of hard work should support the discipline necessary to set aside funds for our old age."
He also said that the financial crisis has had a negative impact on the strength and durability of pension funds and may have led to doubts if the funds are able to pay one's pension when he or she reaches pensionable age. "Be aware that this is a legitimate thought and reason why we should make sure that the funds are properly managed with controlled risks, such as insuring that employers pay their premiums. Be aware that each pension fund is built on solidarity, this solidarity cannot be eliminated. I would even go further with stating that in a relatively small community like ours, solidarity should go much further. Luxurious pension plans should be scaled down in favour of a basic realistic pension plans for everyone. There is a wise saying 'If we just take what we need, there will be enough for everyone,'" he said.
The minister said that depending on one's children "is not a good pension plan."
"Be aware that your dependability may have a suffocating impact on your children and creates a vicious cycle where they later cannot afford to take care of themselves because they took care of you. It would be great if you could continue to work after the age of 60, or 62 or even 65. In fact, many of us do so. I can assure you as somebody in that age bracket, and maybe that is because of the job I have. You should be aware you should be looking forward to going on pension and enjoying the remaining part of your life comfortably without too many obligations," he said.
According to Hassink, pension awareness is growing with the average age of the population, which he said is a good sign. "A lot needs to be done however to make sure that all of us can spend our old age at an acceptable quality level of life, a broad reform is therefore needed. I'm convinced that the General Pension Fund can play a leading role in this."
Hassink lauded the initiative to hold the seminar.
He closed on a light note saying: "As the Minister of Finance and sometimes referred to as the Minister of golden oldies, I would like to recommend you to listen to the song of the Beatles from the Sergeant Peppers Longplay "when I'm sixty four."
The conference was aimed at raising awareness and disseminating information regarding pensions in general and aspects of the pension system. The conference was held under the theme: "Securing your pension makes cents."
APS had been charged with administering the pension of civil servants, teachers, and employees of other government-related organisations in St. Maarten since the dismantling of the Netherlands Antilles on October 10, 2010.
APS had said previously that the conference comes at a time when it is essential that it informs and educates the community about pension-related matters. APS had expressed hope that the seminar would have triggered an exchange of ideas and dialogue on pension issues and promote transparency and open communication as basic principles of APS' operations.