Opinion

Retirement, Pension benefits and destitution

RETIREMENT PENSION BENEFITS AND DESTITUTION

REFLECTIONS WITH HICKS SIKAZWE
DAVEY Lukwesa, aged 68, a security guard in Kitwe attended compulsory Zambia National Service (ZNS) introduced in 1975 in the UNIP era for secondary school leavers.
After six months of military training at Kafue and 14 production in Katete, he joined a Kabwe-based state enterprise, otherwise known as parastatal. He was later moved to Ndola.
In 1995, he was retrenched and according to him evicted from a house he was supposed to buy as a sitting tenant. He was then 42 years old.
Since 1995 he has fought battles legal and civil, he says, he still has to be paid off. On April 10 2020, he was attracted by a Daily Nation front page story, SMEs, STIMULUS ROLLED OUT, AS PENSIONERS RETIREES SET TO BE PAID.
After running through the story he scanned the inside pages of the edition, came across my contact at the bottom of this column and two days later he called me.
“How are you my brother? This is Lukwesa, a friend to late Jones Kangwa; I am now in Kitwe where I work as a security guard and renting a room in Miseshi at K350 per month. Imagine I haven’t yet been paid benefits since 1995.”
He said he came across a story in this newspaper where government announced a stimulus package for pensioners and retirees, and wondered how much I knew about the issue since the story appeared in a copy where he saw my name.
I remembered Davey whom I knew through another colleague, Jones Kangwa who I was with at National Service in Kasama in 1976. Jones, now late, had joined the same firm where Lukwesa worked.
Both Davey and Jones lived in single quarters in the city centre but later Davey moved to a stand alone roomy house in Northrise which he could not buy as a sitting tenant.
Last month we buried Mercy, a relative, who had been retrenched in 2010 from Zamtel in that messy Lap Green sale. She was 48. After the burial we discovered she had not been paid her benefits either. Colleagues she had worked with at the company, who attended the funeral, confirmed that too.
There are hordes of heart rending stories such as those of Davey and Mercy, former workers that have not been paid benefits or for one reason or another are not even on pension. Much as government involvement in running of companies was at one time hailed as progressive especially in the provision of employment to Zambians, critics have insisted that the firms were a product of a false economy and still are.
Quite many have for a long time suffered from political interference, over employment and are accused of inept management so much that over the years there has been a chaotic administration of pension schemes and under-the-table offloading of benefits.
Ask one of the pension managers, NAPSA, they have tales on former workers of state enterprises demanding dues from there. These retirees are from companies where NAPSA contributions were deducted from employees but never remitted or irregularly did so. These ex- employees have only pay slips to show for their service.
Many of the former workers have not qualified for NAPSA pension because of the non remittance anomaly.
As a result of this malady thousands of former workers have retired without pensions to fall back on. If they got the benefits at all and the money ran out, darkness set in.
Very few are lucky like Davey who at least found a job as a security guard in Kitwe. Others have died a few years after retirement or at the most they end up in total destitution.
Former parastatal workers are not the only ones that die or get relegated into destitution because they are still not paid benefits or they have no pensions, government workers too.
Sometimes the anger and hunger run so deep that they are forced to stage demonstrations outside offices of their former departments in some cases they even attempt marching to State House.
In other countries people look forward to retirement because they become the mini millionaires and the new employers as they set up enterprises where they provide jobs to people who in turn pay taxes.
In developed nations retirees contribute to treasury bills and bank bonds which in turn support a country’s economy. The common picture in Zambia is that the majority of employees nearing the end of their working life are stressed by the prospect of retirement because of the unknown future ahead.
In an attempt to find a solution to the embarrassment of delayed and non payment of retirees, or retrenches’ dues, someone in government thought of a political solution.
A law was passed that once someone retires and they are not yet paid their dues they remain on the payroll. This measure is uneconomic and at the best it has put pressure on cash-strapped companies.
The rationale of scaling down of staff either through retrenchments or retirement is to help such a company to save on costs. But when you keep a retired employee on the payroll surely you have not resolved the problem rather it will be worse.
Over the years, there has been clearly something wrong with the administration of benefits and pension schemes in Zambia. This problem is persistent in government and state-run institutions than otherwise.
Most workers in private companies, if not all, never go through the trauma their colleagues on the other side of the fence trudge along after leaving work.
Stories of ex-government or parastatal workers dying without getting benefits are very common. Even when funds are available, to clear some on meandering waiting lists, getting that money has its own problems.
Those charged with the task to pay can be sly in their deeds, and are often targets of accusations of favoritism, corruption and related vices in the disbursement of long delayed dues.
In more recent years workers in the civil service, public universities, or councils rarely get salaries on time. These days many individual landlords are even reluctant to offer property to civil servants for rent. Yet not long ago, a lot of home owners preferred government workers as tenants.
There is an imperative need for a review in the administration of pensions and disbursement of benefits to end the plight of retirees most of whom end up in destitution or even die without being paid.
The starting point should be to minimise political interference in the running of government enterprises; they must be allowed to run as businesses.
One way to achieve this is by insisting on professionalism and proffering jobs on merit. Measures are needed to punish culprits for instance who flout statutory obligations like failure to remit NAPSA dues after the money has been deducted from employees.
There is also need for equity in enforcing compliance on tax collection and other statutory obligations. The general observation is that there is a level of high handedness when dealing with private outlets and political fallouts when compared to flouting state firms.
Far too many people have died leaving uncollected benefits others continue to suffer despite having worked for years on end and contributed so much to the welfare of Zambia. In all fairness the country has the capacity to end the plight of retirees, pensioners and those that get retrenched like Davey Lukwesa.
Hicks Sikazwe is a Communications /Media Consultant, Media Trainer, and Freelance Journalist. kfffments 0955/0966 929611 or hpsikazwe2017@yahoo.com

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