NSSA treating pensioners like a charity case

The monthly pension payouts NSSA is paying pensioners are so paltry that most pensioners are failing to put food on their tables on a daily basis.

RETIREMENT is supposed to be a time to enjoy some of the fruits of one’s labour. However, for legions of the National Social Security Authority (NSSA) pensioners in Zimbabwe, retirement has metamorphosed into a time of misery and suffering — a time when the future heralds little, but the certainty of death.

The monthly pension payouts NSSA is paying pensioners are so paltry that most pensioners are failing to put food on their tables on a daily basis.

The minimum monthly pension payout for a NSSA pensioner currently stands at ZWL$230 000.

A survivor’s pension is ZWL$92 000 and the invalidity pension is also pegged at ZWL$92 000.

At times the elderly pensioners are given a component of their meagre pensions in United States dollars.

With the sharp rise in the cost of basic foodstuffs, it is a daily struggle to survive and some pensioners have now resorted to operating backyard businesses like tuckshops, barbershops and shoe repair shops, while others have turned to street vending to supplement their paltry pension payouts.

“We are receiving pathetic pension payouts because some NSSA administrators and politicians are embezzling our pensions. NSSA is paying us (widows) a monthly pension of ZWL$ 92 000. On the black market, this translates to only US$9,20.This amount is only enough to buy a 10kg bag of mealie-meal and a 2kg packet of sugar. I am failing to fend for my family and l have now turned to selling vegetables and airtime in the streets to survive,” said Gogo Eunice Nduna, a 78-year-old NSSA beneficiary, who lives in Old Lobengula, Bulawayo.

NSSA, being a corporate body tasked by the government to provide social security, is duty-bound to ensure that citizens are well looked after when they retire. However, the sad irony is that the monthly remittances the organisation is paying the elderly retirees cannot sustain the life of a single beneficiary.

After spending their youthful years rendering the nation with much-needed service, thousands of elderly NSSA pensioners in the country today find themselves marooned on a tiny island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material and economic prosperity.

Former Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare minister Sekai Nzenza once said government was instituting a proper governance structure at NSSA to improve the welfare of pensioners.

“Pensioners are complaining that what they are receiving, compared to the cost of living, is too low ... We realise the urgency of the matter and we need to review the pensions upwards,” Nzenza said during her tenure in 2019.

Early last year, former Public Service minister Paul Mavhima also promised that government would “review pension payouts in line with the movement of the exchange rate so as to preserve pay value”.

Sadly, however, this has remained mere rhetoric as NSSA pensioners continue to battle for survival in Zimbabwe’s depressed economic environment.

NSSA administrators postulate that the payouts paid to pensioners are based on actuarial evaluation, and are the best that the national authority can afford to pay the elderly men and women.

As one analyst once pointed out: “This is a blatant falsehood being peddled by hoity toity NSSA administrators to give a veil of justification and legitimacy to the payment of paltry pensions to pensioners.”

 The truth that must be told without prejudice is that astronomic amounts of money, which NSSA accrued from investments have, over the years, been channelled towards selfish and often criminal ends.

A few years ago, a former government minister Prisca Mupfumira was arraigned before the courts for allegedly embezzling a whopping US$95 million from NSSA.

This case is only a tip of the proverbial iceberg as the embezzlement of funds is flourishing at NSSA like flowers in bloom.

In 2018, President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s office received a dossier on alleged corruption at NSSA from outspoken former Norton Member of Parliament, Temba Mliswa.

The dossier, titled The Abuse and Capture of the National Social Security Authority, exposed a myriad of alleged corruption activities at NSSA.

These included the organisation’s role in funding a local commercial bank without following procedures.

The dossier also named senior government officials and private sector players, who allegedly benefitted from corrupt deals at NSSA.

At this point, it is important to mention that Zimbabwe’s Constitution states, in no unambiguous terms, that people over the age of 70 years have the right to receive reasonable financial support by way of social security and welfare from the State.

Impartial observers are unanimous in their assertion that pension payouts must be boosted by a certain percentage of proceeds from the country’s vast mineral resources.

Zimbabwe is a resource-rich country and has the capacity to provide financial assistance to all elderly pensioners and other senior citizens in the country.

However, the honest truth is that the majority of the country’s elderly citizens are impoverished and surviving on mere crumbs from the national cake.

And yet, in South Africa and Botswana, for instance, the State takes care of the financial needs of all its senior citizens, especially those who are 60 years and above, by paying them decent monthly grants.

Zimbabwe is a constitutional democracy and the government is obligated to adhere to the dictates of our Constitution by ensuring that the monthly pension payouts of all pensioners, not just government pensioners, are commensurate with the escalating cost of living in the country.

At the moment, there appears to be no serious commitment on the part of the government to improve the livelihoods of NSSA pensioners.

It is clear to discerning analysts, this scribe included, that the current administration appears to be focused on government pensioners and is doing very little to bail NSSA pensioners from the morass of searing poverty.

The following narratives buttress this insightful observation: Every month, government pensioners receive US dollar COVID-19 allowances on top of their normal monthly payouts.

NSSA pensioners are not paid these allowances. Why?

Last year, government pensioners received US$100 annual bonuses. NSSA pensioners, on the other hand, received a paltry US$40. Is that fair?

What boggles my mind is that the government has apparently adopted the stance of a passive observer while NSSA is treating pensioners like a charity case.

NSSA administrators need to be reminded, even by way of repetition, that the elderly pensioners, who are too frail even to support the weight of their bodies, contributed in advance to their economic welfare in retirement and deserve decent pension payouts so that they are able to live dignified lives. I rest my pen.

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