Accounting officers across the country are in the spotlight after revelations that many of them had not accounted for nearly Shs20 billion meant for pensioners.
According to the Ministry of Finance, of the 98 ministries, local governments and agencies that received the money, 71 have not accounted for the funds. This is worrying and questions must be asked, which answers the responsible bodies must provide, or resolve the matter.
Chapter 9 (1) of the Pension Act (1946) states: “Every officer employed in the public service who has qualified for a pension shall be entitled to it.”
Public servants in Uganda retire at 60 years of age unless one has been forced by sickness or other unforeseen circumstances. This means that many pensioners are people of advanced age, who are or are headed for the evening part of their lives.
Often, their best and most productive days are way behind them. By 60, many are frail and in some instances, ailing. Some want this money to set up retirement businesses or put together a few things to ensure a decent rest from work.
Yet, it is not uncommon to find them being tossed from one office to another at district level, or even being subjected to travel hundreds of kilometres away to the Public Service ministry in Kampala to ‘chase their files’ or ‘locate missing documents’.
The Finance ministry Permanent Secretary has even a more bizarre notion to the issue. Mr Keith Muhakanizi says he has reports that some accounting officers have been asking for bribes and also inflate figures. Other reports indicate that officials ask for as high as Shs3 million from some senior citizens as a precondition for processing their documents.
There are also reports of officials sharing or spiriting away beneficiaries’ money, in case they are out of the country or in the event that they die, and fail to refund, if at all they had that wild thought. As a result, many senior citizens end up blowing their little savings on chasing pension as reported in this newspaper yesterday. Others die before receiving the money, and their next of kin spend decades moving from one office to another in vain.
We then ask the question, which we asked yesterday rhetorically. What is the problem? Are the pension funds released late, do accounting officers submit no accountability at all or is their accountability rejected for lack of supporting documents?
The Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development should pick interest, however late, and pounce on the matter. Let those who are responsible give the elderly their pension money.
Mr Abdi is the International Organisation for Migration Uganda Chief of Mission
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