The National Social Security Authority (NSSA) has announced plans to raise its minimum payout to pensioners from $60 per month to $80 with effect from October this year. That figure is also set to be reviewed at the beginning of next year to $100.
At the same time, the pensions agency has introduced a biometric registration system for pensioners to minimise fraudulent payouts and also to be able to maintain accurate records.
These are both positive developments. For a start, we know that although inflation has remained subdued for many years since dollarisation, still the payments to pensioners have been inadequate. A review was long overdue for a number of reasons.
Pensionable age is the time when the elderly experience a lot of ailments which they didn’t suffer when they were younger and able to support themselves through their monthly wages. That means most of the pensioners are finding it hard to sustain themselves at a time when their medical bills are escalating and more frequent. That is why we believe every increment in payout counts.
Second, due to problems at PSMAS, most pensioners are finding it difficult to access medical services. That means at times they must pay in cash for their prescriptions. That puts a serious strain on their meagre pensions, a figure which can also be blamed on past NSSA management which made dubious investments in equally dubious companies. For the duration NSSA has been in existence, pensioners should be getting a better return in their hour of greatest need.
Third, in the past few years the country has experienced enormous cash challenges because people are addicted to the use of the United States dollar. Pensioners have not been spared. Their case is made worse if they live in rural areas. It means they must use their little savings as transport as well.
But that would not be the end; often they spend days on end queuing to get their cash. This must be demoralising especially if we consider that some banks pay out as little as $20. For this reason, we would urge NSSA to make a special arrangement with banks, not only that the elderly are given first preference in bank queues, but that they are given their pensions in full.
This will allow them a once-off withdrawal so that they work out their budget without wasting more on transport, food and sometimes accommodation while in town. We have witnessed pitiful scenes of some of them sleeping on the pavement because they have nowhere to go.
We don’t believe paying pensioners in full at long monthly intervals could cause banks any noticeable effect. If for nothing else, it is vital to place oneself in the elderly pensioner’s position a few years down the line. Moreover, as a nation we have a moral duty to alleviate the suffering of the elderly in the last days of their lives on earth.
We want to commend Public Service, Labour and Social Services Minister Prisca Mupfumira for taking a personal interest to alleviate the plight of pensioners. She noted that the biometric registration system would ensure the integrity of NSSA records so that only deserving cases were paid. She called for the use of new technologies so that pensions payments could “be done at the pensioners’ convenience and reasonable transaction costs”.
Minister Mupfumira stressed; “These innovative ways will remove the need for pensioners to travel long distances, at great cost, to collect their pensions.”
We would also urge the minister to keep an eagle eye on the investment decisions made by the NSSA board to ensure pensioners get a living return at the end of the day.