Sunday February 23 2014

Pension is an entitlement and a right; not a favour for goodness sake!

By Harold Acemah

On the day this opinion was written, Thursday, February 20, most pensioners including myself had not yet been paid their pension for the month of January and the few who have received theirs were paid three weeks late; some had unexplained deductions made from their pensions. The Ministry of Public Service has not even bothered to issue an official statement to explain the unjustified delay in payment of January pension.

On January 20, I took the initiative to enquire from the Ministry of Public Service and was informed that the necessary documentation had already been submitted to the ministry of Finance to authorise and effect payment via the Bank of Uganda by end of that week.

When no funds were credited to my account at the end of the week, I decided to check with the ministry of Finance and, to my surprise, was told that Public Service had not yet submitted the list of pensioners for payment.

As in war, the truth is the first casualty in what appears to be politics of the bureaucracy in which the Ministry of Public Service is blaming the ministry of Finance and vice versa, with pensioners caught between a rock and a hard place! Under normal circumstances, pension for the current month was due and payable by February 15, but as matters stand, that is now a tall order.

Pension is, by definition, a terminal or retirement benefit awarded to a retired public officer as social security at the end of his or her service. The circumstances, conditions and procedures under which a public officer qualifies for and is thus paid pension are contained in the Constitution of Uganda, the Pensions Act, Pensions regulations and government Standing Orders.

According to article 254 of the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, “A public officer shall, on retirement, receive such pension as is commensurate with his or her rank, salary and length of service”.

“The pension payable to any person shall be exempt from tax and shall be subject to periodic review to take account of changes in the value of money.”

“The payment of pension shall be prompt and regular and easily accessible to pensioners.”
Since 2008, when I started to get monthly pension, one lesson I soon learnt was that payment of pension by the government of Uganda is neither prompt, nor regular! Payment of pension is, in fact, erratic and the reason is self-evident.

A bunch of despicable, greedy and shameless characters at the Ministry of Public Service routinely stole and feasted on the pension fund for many years! These notorious thieves together with some of their junior officers have at long last been interdicted and are awaiting trial at the Anti-Corruption Court; they have been charged with stealing more than Shs200 billion, possibly more, over a decade or more.

What these callous officers did is mind-boggling and pensioners hope and pray that these enemies of the wananchi of Uganda will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and face the maximum jail sentence; in addition, they should be compelled to refund every shilling they stole from the pension fund.

In the wacky world of contemporary Uganda in which anything goes and too many things are upside down, it is easier for a private businessman like Hassan Basajjabalaba (who was recently given a dubious compensation of Shs142 billion by government) to get paid by the Treasury, for nothing, than bona fide pensioners who have served the government and people of Uganda diligently, honestly and loyally for 20, 30 or more years! Most pensioners feel that the NRM regime does not appreciate the enormous and patriotic contribution each one of them has made towards the social, economic and political development of Uganda.

Pensioners deserve better; much better than the raw deal they are getting now! Many retired public servants have died of stress and preventable diseases because they lacked social security; some die soon after they become pensionable because of the unpredictable payment of their pensions by government of Uganda.

Pension is an entitlement and a right of all pensioners; not a favour for goodness sake; it must be paid regularly and promptly by the 15th of every month, as per pensions regulations.

Most pensioners have not yet been paid their pension for January 2014; unnecessary deductions have been made to the few who were paid three weeks late! This is unacceptable and unbecoming of a civilised society which ought to function on the basis of established regulations and the rule of law.

The failure by the government of Uganda to pay pensions and salaries on time and in full is a clear manifestation of systemic corruption, incompetence and lack of good leadership which are the hallmarks of the NRM regime. It is a sad commentary on a country which is well-endowed with human and natural resources and hence capable of taking good care of her senior and respected citizens.

I hope the responsible officers in all ministries will pull up their socks and efficiently deliver services to all Ugandans, including pensioners, which services citizens deserve and are entitled to. For God and My Country!

Mr Acemah is a political scientist, consultant and a retired career diplomat.