Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter
A NEW business-processing platform, which is aimed at increasing the pace at with pension claims for retired government workers is dealt with, is to be rolled out starting next fiscal year, A.J. Nicholson, the leader of Government Business in the Senate, said on Friday.
Nicholson, who was responding to questions tabled by Opposition Senator Robert Montague, said the platform is a critical component of the pension-reform initiative.
"The new business process will include the electronic delivery of information, as well as the calculations of pension benefits," Nicholson said.
He told the Senate that the new process will reduce the processing time for pension benefits from the average of four months to 30 days.
Nicholson also said that to complement the reengineered process, an earnings database will be established, which will capture the employment history and salary information of the employee over his working life.
There are approximately 33,000 government pensioners. The Government spent $22.59 billion on pensions last year.
Nicholson told the Senate that the minimum pension payable to a former government employee is $15,000 per month. He said there are some persons who were retired on the grounds of abolition of posts within the public sector, and did not have 10 years service, who now get $400 per month for pension.
On Friday, Montague and Nicholson's swords crossed paths as the questioner contended that Nicholson failed to answer one of the questions he had posed.
The question is: "Will the minister state what is the longest period a former worker has had to wait in order to receive his / her pension?"
Nicholson's response involved a detailed walk-through of the process involved in computing a pension.
Montague accused the Government of trying to hide the answers from him, and brushing aside a legitimate issue facing persons, some of whom he said have been waiting for a pension for up to 12 years.
Nicholson branded the question as a foolish one, noting that it is impossible to comb public records and determine the length of time it has taken for each former government worker to start receiving a pension.
Montague, however, shot back, saying the minister's response is glazed with arrogance.
"It may be foolish to him, but that poor worker who is depending of that pension to pay for his or her medical supplies and food, it is not foolishness; and I am shocked and surprised that a minister of Government, a member of the Cabinet, can be so dismissive of the circumstances of a person, who have worked, sometimes under trying circumstances and is now awaiting a pension," Montague said.
Nicholson, however, retorted, "It has to do with your propaganda". He said he will not be returning to the Senate with answer to the question which Montague says remains outstanding.
"There is no earthly way that the present Ministry of Finance and Planning could answer that question," Nicholson said.