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The Horrors of Targeting

24.12.2015

When radio journalists Finlay Salesse and Nawaaz Noorbux interviewed Sir Aneerood Jugnauth after his first year as Prime Minister, they both put rather bizarre pressure on him, as if they were themselves representing a right-wing political party: “Why are you not, Mr Prime Minister, introducing targeting for social services?” they asked, and then asked again, and then again.


 On 21 December, Raj Meetarbhan the L’Express editorialist does the same nagging exercise.


 Strange how blocked some peoples’ ideas are about Government revenue and expenses. One would have thought any idiot would know that it is easier to target the rich, and tax them, than to target and pay pensions to “the poor”. For a start the rich are so few compared, so thus cheaper to target. And one would have thought all educated people know about the simple “claw-back system” whereby any Government that gives social rights universally, then just claws back the same amount, or less or more – depending upon its degree of compassion – from the people who do have money.


 Every person who has any experience of what it is like to be poor or even has any nous about social services, knows that there is not something written on someone’s forehead to say “I am poor!” and then you can give them their pension. It is a very difficult thing to ascertain just how rich or poor someone is. It does not go by colour, sex, creed or dress code. Nor does it go by address either. It does not go by appearances. People living in similar houses may be responsible for no-one but themselves, or for five dependents. They may or may not have rent to pay. Proving all these things for hundreds of thousands of people is both difficult and costly, and produces cruel injustices. The definition of “targeting” is that the poor person has to prove that he or she is poor. The poor person has to do “demarche”, that is to say a whole lot of paper work that it is particularly difficult for poor people to do, getting sent from pillar to post around the country. It also means pensions will often be cut off, and will take enormous resources and tribunals and appeal boards in order to re-instate six months later, after all sorts of undue suffering.


 Strange, too, how little some well-off intellectuals care about the feelings of the poor. Can you imagine the humiliation poor people will have to go through in order to prove their poverty? And there are the oaths the poor will have to sign that they are indeed poor, that relatives are not sending them money from abroad, that their house is not really their own although they live in it, that the flat-screen television is a gift from a daughter in Italy, that their son is a good-for-nothing who doesn’t contribute to their household, that their husband, although he still works, has set up with another woman, that their house leaks and money is needed to get it fixed. And then there are the intrusive inspections by officers of the Social Security Ministry, who get sent in to check if a poor woman has someone else’s shoes on her doorstep, thus is not alone, thus is being supported and not in need of a pension. Or how many chickens she keeps. And worst of all there are the frictions that arise from “reports” (true and false) by neighbours who tell tales that this old-age pensioner is actually working part-time, doing ironing for someone, and thus should not get the targeted pension or that they actually have an “inheritance” in some house somewhere occupied by others, and should not get the pension, etc., etc., etc.  


 And who are these intellectuals who cannot look at the income side of national accounts at the same time as they look at the expenditure side? Instead of just saying “It costs x” to the State to pay pensions and “Y could be brought in through claw-back”, so it comes out even for the State, they persist in seeing only the expenditure side, as if they have a mental handicap.


 We know that the bourgeoisie wants to invest in pensions and insurance. So, we understand if some big capitalist comes along and tries to con us with this set of childish and abusive arguments in favour of targeting. We know that they want to force people to take out private pension schemes, so they can make a profit out of it. We also understand when the World Bank and IMF, who represent corporate capital, come and put targeting as a condition for loans because this encourages privatization (of the pensions), which is their ideology. And they understand nothing of what it is like to be poor. Capitalist and bankers don’t even notice that they are using an aggressive military image of aiming a weapon at someone poor (“targeting” him or her). They just want to go on making their profits grow.  


 But why should intellectuals fall for this kind of lure?


 Frankly it is a mystery.


 Someone has lived 60 years and contributed enormously to society in ways that neither the State or journalists even try to measure. And now, when they are 60, instead of giving everyone the acknowledgment of this contribution, people run campaigns day and night to deprive people of their human dignity, and to make the poor grovel before officers of the State in order to get by.  It is frankly an outrageous position to be in favour of targeting – whether for old-age pensions, widows’ pensions, health services, education or subsidized basic food.


 We have only just won the battle against the targeting for the State to cover SC and HSC examination fees. Clearly it is seen as too cruel to subject under-age children to this humiliation in the classroom.


 And remember the MMM-MSM lost the 2005 elections precisely because, inter alia, they introduced the targeting of old-age pensions?


 Sir Aneerood Jugnauth may be in favour – he is certainly harsh enough – but he is not stupid.


 


Lindsey Collen


for LALIT


22 December 2015.