Welfare of the elderly: cheap politics and politicians

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Since the dissolution of the Legislative Assembly, political leaders and their meek followers are again knocking shamelessly on our doors to beg for our votes, to allow them to improve our living conditions. Now they have realised that elderly people form a significant percentage of voters and, as could be expected, the emphasis of all politicians is on their welfare. However, the only means to achieve that, in their shortsightedness, is increasing their pension, as if money only could improve the lot of the elderly.

That the elderly people should be singled out for their “largesses” shows politicians’ belated realization of the aging process the world over. The single laudable measure which was aimed at improving the lot of our seniors – a geriatric hospital – was bungled through because of excessive greed and incompetence. The care of the elderly requires a holistic approach to cater for the entire needs of his or her body. The idea of a geriatric hospital was commendable. However, facilitating access to eye care and ENT services, at present available in Moka and Vacoas, requires some measure of decentralisation in the regional hospitals.

How can we expect somebody from, say, Chemin Grenier or Mahebourg, to travel to Moka or Vacoas several times to have a cataract or hearing defect remedied. Another matter of utmost importance to people of advanced age is access to places such as supermarkets, markets (bazaars), private pharmacies, entertainment parks and gardens. Some elderly people prefer to remain cloistered in their homes rather than take the risks of walking by our public roads, where danger lurks for everybody in terms of attacks by muggers, pickpockets and drug addicts. The police, for one reason or another, cannot be relied upon as even them, are sometimes the problem.

In my past articles, I have stressed the need to customize our services, in particular for the elderly. The authorities have turned a deaf ear to repeated demands. Our buses will continue to be manned by uncouth operators who do not pay attention to the safety of our elderly when they embark on or alight from the bus. Our pavements are no more reserved for pedestrians but are invaded by all sorts of vehicles. In the town suburbs and rural areas, the two sides of the roads have been encroached upon by car garages so that elderly people have to walk squarely on part of the road with serious risks to life and limb. But nobody seems to care. The district and village councils are pale replicas of their predecessors. The major part of the funds are kept at the centre. Only if you are close to politicians, will your demands be met and that only if funds are available.

In spite of the Local Government Act and Regulations made thereunder, the major part of the funds collected from taxpayers are siphoned off for the benefit of some selected village people like Côte d’Or, etc. most of the time in the constituency of a powerful Minister (who incidentally holds the power of the purse and is the only competent person in the country). And when you realise that the villagers are exempt from the payment of tax on immoveable property, you will realise the injustice that successive governments have allowed to be done to townspeople. Port-Louis, e.g is visited everyday by thousands of people from the rural areas to the inconvenience of town folks. One example is the presence of street vendors and all manner of hawkers on our pavements.

Old people’s residences

Another important measure would be the construction of old people’s homes or residences where services would be provided against modest fees and where the residents would benefit from activities for their continued health and happiness, where their friends and relatives could meet them and, occasionally, take them out for picnics and barbecues at the seaside. In Sweden, I saw how old people’s residences were provided with youth wings where young people were encouraged to come regularly to engage in music, dancing singing, painting, indoor games and all the pleasures of life for there is nothing more debilitating and heartrending, I suspect, than the feeling that you have been removed from all the things you used to do and from the young people you loved – in a word that you have been declared useless. Some such creatures sometimes pray for death to deliver them.

We have a lot of admiration for those who spend time with senior people from their clubs and take them out on picnic or to the MBC-TV for some entertainment. The residences built by the Government at Pointe-aux-Sables, Trou-aux-Biches and Belle-Mare are examples of what we recommend but for longer stays – financed by part of the pension which Government has promised them. These inmates would be free to return home for some time when their grown up children or other relatives are on holidays, to partake of the same meals whose taste they may be yearning for.

Fresh minds and agile limbs

If Government feels that they have a duty to care for the elderly, then they must leave their air conditioned and carpeted offices, at least one or two days a month, and watch the elderly people, incognito if possible, going about their activities. For this to be possible, we need politicians who are not elderly themselves, whose minds are still fresh and their limbs agile and who are not suffering from an onset of gerontic/ geriatric diseases themselves If we were to conduct an enquiry we would realise how many of our politicians should have been in a health clinic to benefit from our generous regimes of our social security benefits.

Just look at some of our “active” politicians. Some of them seem to have decided to stop performing their politician’s work, either through laziness, incapability, should we say incapacity, some pretentious ones to show that without them the work cannot be done as effectively, others because through late night carousing, their brains have stopped functioning normally and it would be a Herculean task to get them to rack and oil their brains. All this we can now see by just watching their demeanor.

Mind you, this is understandable. People who have worked very hard during a lifetime should be allowed to retire and enjoy their life. Nobody can blame them for enjoying, in their case, their Black, Blue or Green Label in a well-earned rest, rather than offer us the pitiable spectacle of evading questions on their performance or passing the buck to their departments. 

Many people say “But what can we do? We have no choice, it’s either the frying pan or the fire”. I think the choice is there but some prefer to close their eyes through mental atrophy or through a habit of mind that refuses to think hard. What an intelligent elector should do is to reflect first on the importance of the vote and the choices he has. He must go through the political manifestos of the different political parties, attend their meetings and weigh the pros and cons of their proposals, preferably in groups. Then, probably, he can make an informed choice.

Fortunately, the new communication technologies bring the spokesmen of the parties to our homes so that we can listen to them attentively and digest their thoughts. There is no risk of being indoctrinated by the rage and fury. And if later we find ourselves in the frying pan, we can find consolation in the thought that this is democracy.

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