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Tuesday,November 24,2020 00:47 AM

Is Pension A Sacred Privilege?

By Vision Reporter

Added 4th January 2004 03:00 AM

THE Chinese philosopher, Confucius, once said that a civilised society was one which educated its young and took care of its old.

THE Chinese philosopher, Confucius, once said that a civilised society was one which educated its young and took care of its old.

By Adyeri Kanyaihe
THE Chinese philosopher, Confucius, once said that a civilised society was one which educated its young and took care of its old.
The NRM administration has made a great effort to educate the young in the midst of stiff economic constraints. However, taking care of its senior citizens has been a different cup of tea. Nowhere is this evident as in the matter of pension. Paying pension and gratuity in this country seems to be a sacred privilege totally dependent on the discretion of the Government.
A pensioner fills heaps of forms applying for pension, but may die without getting a coin! Since the actual beneficiaries find it extremely difficult to obtain it when they are still on this side of the grave, few of their kinsmen succeed in getting anything for the voiceless dead! Most people who qualify for pension are usually badly in need of it and are normally the elderly and frail.
In spite of that, the retirement age for civil servants has been pushed to 60 years from 55. This is against the background that the life expectancy in Uganda is only a miserable 42 years. Clocking 60 years is no mean feat for people who live from hand to mouth.
What is the rationale of pushing retirement age to 60 years, considering the difficult lifestyle of most Ugandans? When does a Ugandan civil servant rest to enjoy the fruits of his sweat? It is as if civil servants in this country were created differently from other citizens.
If it were automatic that people who retire from civil service would immediately get their dues it would be a solace, but that is rarely ever the case in Uganda.
Today, pensioners are owed sh265b in arrears by the Ministry of Public Service! Is there a chance that such an obscene figure will ever be upset? But, even in the face of such a daunting challenge, Uganda has a Parliament of 300 MPs, whose remuneration and other perks I will not care to go into. And that is only one instance of Uganda’s spending habits and priorities.
The story of James Bizarwenda published in The New Vision in September might still be fresh in the memory of the readers. Bizarwenda who is now 80 years old and is as blind as a bat, retired in 1992, but to this day, 11 years later, he has not been paid a single cent. At 80, how many more years does he have ahead? It is a sad commentary that people like him who offer their best in the prime of their lives in serving their nation are treated in such an insensitive manner.

Margaret Nnaluga, a senior official in the ministry of Public Service, has the answer to that question. On December 4, 2004, during a workshop in Kasese, she appealed to all district personnel officers to discourage uncalled for expiry of civil servants’ contracts and cautioned teachers against retiring before the age of 60 because retiring earlier would create “a heavy burden in arrears”.
Bad laws are easy to draft, but take eternity to repeal. The law on the retirement age of civil servants needs to be changed or modified and made more flexible for many reasons. The human body gets weaker and not stronger as years go by and the same is true of the brain. The only reason why civil servants must retire at 60 and not 55 has been ably explained by Margaret Nnaluga.
Ugandans fresh from universities and tertiary institutions are roaming the streets, while the law suggests that people should be stuck in civil service for nearly 40 years.
It is common practice that even when some civil servants retire, the government still continues employing them on contract. The government seems to have planned for a few employees like judges, permanent secretaries and others of their ilk to comfortably retire without a hassle. It also seems to be a good plan for the government to use the pensioners’ money for as long as possible without regard to the beneficiaries’ plight. In view of this, what do our representatives in Parliament discuss when they are not walking out of Parliament, debating Gaetano or multi-party politics? It is interesting that Ugandan MPs have been bold enough to suggest that they should also get a pension upon retirement, never mind their conditions of service. One wonders why, if they know the value of pension, they have never put it high on the agenda for their electorate. What method do they hope to use to get it, considering the pain, and torture one has to go through claiming it? Why do they think they are more entitled to pension after working for a mere five or 10 years? They are not civil servants and one wonders how the issue of pension comes in when there is no provision for it in the constitution of Uganda. The government is keen and concerned about the ‘social security of its employees and all other public servants. It is therefore unlawful for any employer not to remit employees’ contribution to the National Social Security Fund ( NSSF). But then, social security is meaningless if pensioners die without getting their gratuity and pension.
Why doesn’t NSSF pay contributors commercial interest on the money it borrows from them by force and withholds for years? The day employees are relieved of the yoke of NSSF and allowed to choose a provident scheme which realistically adresses their concerns, will be a great day for the Ugandan worker. Only then will ‘social security’ have some meaning.
Democracy will remain on our leaders’ lips if they continue plunging their fingers in the pie without due consideration for those who make it possible for them to do so.
Ends

Is Pension A Sacred Privilege?

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