Arthur Kaseke Correspondent
The recently announced pension benefits upward variation by NSSA, though falling far short of pensioners’ expectations in this highly charged inflationary environment, came as a relief to most pensioners who are wallowing in abject poverty.
From the measly minimum of RTGS $80 per month to the $200 minimum, the increase is a drop in the ocean, given the spiralling cost of basic goods and services, where a 10kg bag of mealie-meal is now selling for almost $100, leaving the hapless pensioner with little or nothing for other necessities such as cooking oil, which is now standing at more than $50 per 2-litre bottle, with beef now being a luxury even amongst the majority of wage earners.
It is, however, sad to note that, whilst the pensioner is wallowing in poverty, the sordid goings-on at NSSA as widely reported in the media, which culminated in the arrest of the then responsible minister Priscah Mupfumira and the subsequent suspension of some senior managers following exposure of their shenanigans by the forensic audit report, seems to be just the tip of the iceberg, with other reports of abuse of loan facilities where due diligence was flouted with impunity.
In essence, it appears like NSSA was from the outset, a milk cow for the “chefs”, with questionable investments decisions characterising its operations, thus prejudicing the authority of millions of dollars, which is supposed to be cascading to the hapless pensioner
Given that scenario, it’s no secret that even with the modest increase recently announced, many a pensioner would not be able to travel to a distant post office just to collect that meagre benefit, considering the skyrocketing bus fares charged by bus operators. There is also the issue of utility bills such as electricity, water, the ever spiralling price of fuel that the pensioner has to constantly grapple with from the measly NSSA benefits.
It is therefore every pensioner’s prayer that that day should come when every abuser of the authority’s funds shall find his/her own way to the nearest maximum security prison to atone for the crimes committed against the nation’s senior citizens.
For, it is no secret that the authority’s fund abusers are living in luxury and plenty, whilst pensioners are living in absolute penury.
In fact, most senior citizens who are living miserably out of their NSSA derisory pension benefits are the sole breadwinners looking after their grown-up children due to the unemployment scourge and orphans left behind as a result of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
Some pensioners do still have children of school-going age.
However, given the rate at which our justice delivery system operates, it becomes a hopeless wish to expect the fingered authority’s fund abuser to go beyond the routine legal platitudes, where even the Prosecutor-General’s Office seems to be woefully clumsy in compiling dockets with strength to secure speedy processing of cases at the courts.
What this therefore means is that the justice delivery system seems to have been horribly compromised, with the feeble assurance by the Judicial Service Commission to the effect that all cases of abuse of office and corruption will be speedily dealt with having now become a damp squib, failing to inspire confidence amongst the generality of our citizenry.
Indeed, the situation in which the pensioners finds himself in is just atrocious.
For starters, most pensioners as alluded to earlier, are the sole breadwinners due to the fact that some of their grown-up children fail to secure meaningful employment on the labour market. This is due to the depressed state of our economy, itself a consequence of the sanctions regime imposed on us by our detractors.
Furthermore, some pensioners do have a legion of orphans to look after, following the effects of the HIV/AIDS pandemic that has ravaged many families.
As if that is not enough, the continued loss of value in our currency has severely affected the pensioners’ NSSA meagre benefit with the attendant consequences of his inability to afford the basic necessities for a decent and meaningful existence.
It would then appear like the only salvation to the pensioner’s plight is to pray to the Almighty for his intervention as there seems to be no respite in sight, given the fact that the ragtag pieces of legislation supposedly meant to address the concerns and aspirations of pensioners, like the Older People’s Act, falls far short of pensioners’ expectations.
For there is also another case in point where the appointment of the Justice George Smith Commission by the late former president Mugabe to look into the loss of value of pensions and benefits following dollarisation was another major letdown amongst pensioners, which regrettably has seemingly died a natural death.
Its recommendations and implementation thereof is in all fairness probably gathering dust in some “chefs” office.
And yet the intended beneficiaries, the legion of pensioners who had invested heavily in the insurance services for the possible rainy day and through their pension contributions, are wallowing in abject poverty.
Indeed, it was the pensioners hope and expectation that the pensioners plight was going to be taken up by our legislators from the outset, and as per their oversight role, following the President Mnangagwa’s pronouncement at one of his pre-election rallies to the effect that the Second Republic was going to prioritise issues pertaining to the plight of pensioners.
Regrettably, what we see from our current crop of parliamentarians are senseless boycotts and useless noise during presentations on issues of national significance, such as our State of the Nation (SONA) and the National Budget.
Such ugly scenes and childishness during parliamentary sessions has seen our august House being reduced to a boozers’ club house, at the expense of competing demands to engage in national dialogue on issues of national significance and development.
Indeed, there is need to synchronise and harmonise legislation, pertaining to the welfare of the country’s senior citizens, starting off with the appointment of a parliamentary portfolio committee that should hold public hearings countrywide on issues pertaining to the concerns, aspirations and grievances of the country’s senior citizens.
In this case, Parliament should come up with a legislative framework that interrogates such issues as exemption or near exemption on utilities such as electricity, municipal rates, parking fees, water bills and travel concessions on publicly owned transport service providers such ZUPCO and the NRZ as benefits and privileges being exclusive to all senior citizens. Furthermore, one would hope by now that a parliamentary portfolio committee would have summoned the Insurance and Pensions Commission (IPEC) for a hearing on the circumstances surrounding the lack of progress in implementing the Justice George Smith Commission’s report.
One can also be tempted, under the circumstances, to invite the Zimbabwe Anti Corruption Commission (ZACC) to sniff on the possibility of an unholy alliance between IPEC and the insurance companies.
Furthermore, IPEC as the insurance and pensions funds regulatory body, also needs to be given teeth, like ZACC, to arrest and send for prosecution, all employer organisations that wilfully fail to remit their dues to NSSA and other pension benefit funds as such wilful neglect contributes to the negative impact on the pensioners’ well-being.
It should further be argued that it is in the pensioners’ best interest to form an umbrella body or a national association of pensioners to enable them to speak with one voice on matters of mutual concern.