At first sight Burma and Zimbabwe may not seem to have much in common beyond their selfimposed poverty. Yet this week's decision of the Burmese military government to release Aung San Suu Kyi from 19 months of house arrest may have some lessons for President Mugabe's dictatorial regime. No one imagines that the generals in Rangoon have suddenly been converted to the benefits of democracy and now want belatedly to recognise the fact that Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy actually won the country's last general election in 1990. But they have had to recognise the fact that the economic sanctions imposed by on them by many Western governments because of their treatment of Suu Kyi are destroying Burma's financial infrastructure and leading to serious shortages of food. The lesson of this situation is that sanctions, properly applied, do work and can bring about political change in even the most extreme regime. True, they also cause hardship for the general population, yet it is often those most affected by shortages of basic requirements who support the imposition of sanctions as the only way to effect peaceful change. The Commonwealth, the European Union and the United States should therefore not hesitate to strengthen their sanctions against Mugabe who daily continues on his descent into dictatorship. There is another parallel to be seen between Burma and Zimbabwe the courage of those ordinary citizens in both countries who continue openly to support opposition parties despite the danger to themselves and their families in doing so. They deserve our admiration and support.
The National Association of Pension Funds is holding its annual conference in Brighton this week. There will be cold comfort both for pension providers and potential pensioners. Earlier this year the Government's pension advisor Alan Pickering (a former chairman of the National Association) called for the state pension age to be raised to 70; the influential centreleft think tank, the Institute for Public Policy Research, has made a similar proposal and yesterday one of Britain's biggest insurers, AXA, joined the chorus calling for a rethink about the appropriate age for pension entitlement. There are several factors contributing to the probable future unviability of current pension expectations. The most compelling is the aging of the population: in 1950 a man reaching the age of 65 could expect to live a further 12 years whereas today his expectation is almost 16 years; today there are 3.5 people of working age funding the pensions of those over 65 but by 2036 there will be only 2.4 people to undertake a larger task. What is the right age for retirement? This must be a matter of personal choice and personal circumstances. It was not so long ago that many people able to make adequate provision were planning to retire at 55. But with increased longevity and better health there would be a case for targetting 70 as the norm even if it were not likely to become necessary on fiscal grounds. Alan Pickering pointed out earlier this year that it is nonsense to have a state pension now which is lower than that which David Lloyd George introduced in 1908 when he fixed the age of 70.
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