CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 20 October 2018

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People come first

The tiny conclave of Puerto Rico is facing a tough dilemma, as creditors from the United States of America (US) threaten lawsuits if it defaults on its debts.

Puerto Rico has been facing a tight financial squeeze, which has seen a big increase in unemployment and consequent poverty among its poorer classes.

However, its government finds itself in a Catch-22 situation. In scrambling to meet the debt payments, it has killed off its own ability to generate wealth; cutting funding to production, firing 30,000 workers in the public sector and raiding pension funds have seen its economy shrink by 10 per cent in recent years.

As a part of the US, it cannot declare bankruptcy without the permission of congress and to date this has been denied. Instead, it is being told to cut social services to free up money to funnel back to Wall Street.

Hedge fund speculators have bought much of its debt at a fraction of its face value and are now trying to squeeze the last pennies out of the carcass, which it can be argued is the prey of radically altered US policy towards Puerto Rico in the first place.

It can also be argued that since interest on Puerto Rico bonds is tax-free across the US and it is already a tax haven, it is shelling out far more than its share in debt repayment.

Now those at the bottom of the economic pie are the ones expected to make the sacrifice.

While the government of Hong Kong is happy to railroad big chunks of supplementary funding for high speed trains and projects widely regarded as white elephants, it continues to dither over people-oriented policies; like working hours, retirement pensions and health care.

Hong Kong is not Puerto Rico and is not crippled with debt. While it may not have the best health care system in the world, it has a workable one, in fact the envy of many in Asia, even if it could stand a few improvements.

It also has a viable education structure which, together with its health care scheme is built on the premise that everyone is entitled to education and medical treatment irrespective of private means.

The government also knows that a healthy population is cheap to maintain and an educated population makes a successful modern state.

However, it baulks on retirement pensions. In the face of programmes suggested by credible civic groups, it is difficult to argue that they cannot be afforded, so does the government believe the older generation does not have anything to contribute to society?

A state is not simply an economic body. It is a community or society of people with social and spiritual needs, as well as physical. It is not right to measure people’s contribution to society solely in terms of dollars and cents.

Happy people make a healthy and prosperous society, and a responsible government heeds the dictum of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to protect life and liberty, as well as provide security of person and a dignified life for everyone.

 

Withholding welfare should be the last option, even in a time of crisis, as it is usually taken from those who can least afford to pay. JiM