Editor's Comment

Permanent solution needed on retirees

Government complex.

GOVERNMENT has released K167 million from this year’s budget allocation of K1.66 billion to pay retirees.
While this figure is inadequate considering the huge backlog of terminal benefits owed to retirees, it is certainly a step in the right direction.
Government obviously needs to be more consistent in releasing the budget allocation for retirees if the backlog is to be cleared completely.
Paying retirees has been a challenge for many years in our country.
For the past decades and under different administrations, retirees have become destitute due to delayed payments of their benefits.
The most affected are those who retired before the amendment of the Constitution which provides for retirees to be on salary for as long as they have not been paid their benefits in full. The amended Constitution is possibly the best news for would-be retirees.
Some retirees have gone for more than 10 years without getting their benefits.
This has affected their capacity to provide for families and in particular support school-going children.
Many have had no choice but to entangle themselves in debt as a way of getting by and, as such, by the time they get their packages, they are already spent.
While this problem has persisted throughout different administrations, the need to find a lasting solution cannot be overemphasised because we cannot continue to subject retirees to such stress.
It is, however, commendable that Government is cognisant of the challenges and, therefore, working to restore the dignity of retirees.
Government has since devised an arrears clearance strategy to reduce the retirees’ waiting period.
“We now have arrears clearance strategy in place where we provide money we owe retirees at the beginning of each year to reduce retirees’ waiting period. We are working to ensure that all retirees receive their money in good time,” Minister of Finance Margaret Mwanakatwe said.
It is in this vein that Government has increased its 2018 budgetary allocation towards payment of retirement benefits from K805 million to K1.66 billion.
A bill aimed at addressing reforms on the pension system to alleviate challenges retirees face is also in the process and has reached an advanced stage. It will soon be presented to Parliament.
Mrs Mwanakatwe noted and justifiably so that the delay to pay retirees has been due to low revenue collection against competing expenditure needs the country has been facing.
Zambia, like many other developing countries, is faced with myriad needs all competing for limited resources.
Due to limited resources, all needy areas only end up getting what is available in the basket and not what is needed.
This certainly calls for more resource mobilisation in the country.
While we commend Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) for being aggressive and proactive in tax collection, there is need to find ways of broadening the tax base by including the inadequately covered informal sector.
We know that ZRA has struggled to harness resources from the informal sector. To date, there are still many people in the informal sector escaping the tax net thereby overburdening the few in the formal sector.
This is money that can be channelled to paying retirees, among other needs.
Every year, the Auditor General’s Report reveals financial flaws in our public institutions. There is need to seal all loopholes through which the country is bleeding financially as exposed by the Auditor General’s Report.
It is good that this year, a number of cases have been taken up for prosecution. This is important if we are to deter would-be offenders and protect our limited resources.
As long as culprits of these financial flaws go scot-free, it means they will continue to squander national resources with impunity at the expense of meeting important needs like paying retirees.
While ZRA should find an effective strategy to comprehensively cover the informal sector, controlling officers in public institutions should also find ways to seal all loopholes through which money is being lost.
Government plans aimed at saving resources like printing ballot papers locally should also be supported. Over K7 billion will be saved as a result of printing ballot papers locally.
This is the only way we will ensure more resources are channelled towards needy areas like paying retirees on time.

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