Salone News

Need for pension harmonization

8 July 2019 at 17:28 | 661 views

Commentary

Need for pension harmonization: Why are government officials & parliamentarians being paid pensions from the Consolidated Revenue Fund?

By Kortor Kamara, USA

In a press release dated July 5, 2019, the government of Sierra Leone through the Financial Secretary announced that out of a total sum of approximately 67 Billion Leones (SLL 66,830,114,540.00) owed as pensions to 371 former political government employees - including the former president, vice-presidents, former ministers and deputies, ambassadors and deputies, information and cultural Attachés, heads of agencies and departments - a fifty percent payment had been effected to the above erstwhile officials as pensions and gratuities, with the remaining fifty percent to be payable through Nassit.

The government reported that despite the lack of any appropriations for such pension payments in the 2018 budget by the erstwhile APC government, the current government had deemed it necessary to expend this huge sum from the recent IMF development disbursement totaling 13.9 million dollars.

The questions that need pondering and answering are why the above former government officials are or were not part of the Nassit pension scheme? Are such lump sum pension payments sustainable from the Consolidated Revenue Fund? What yardstick or legislation was utilized in determining eligibility? Should the parliament and government not now review the underlying legislations and seek to harmonize all government pensions to be managed and administered by NASSIT?

The need for harmonization of various disparate and often conflicting pension laws in Sierra Leone, has been made even more glaringly imperative and urgent, as the government is poised to make pension payments totaling approximately 67 billion Leones to the former president, vice president, ministers and deputies and heads of departments and agencies from the nation’s consolidated revenue fund.

These pension payments are provided however under The Pensions and Retiring Benefits of Presidents and Vice Presidents Act, 1986 and the State Salaries, Pensions, Gratuities and Other Benefits Act, 2003 - both of which are contradictory to the express provisions and legislative intent of the 2001 National Social Security & Insurance Trust Act.

The continued payment of pensions from the nation’s consolidated revenue funds by government, either in its sovereign or public employer capacity, was deemed prohibited with passage of the National Social Security & Insurance Trust Act, 2001.

Specifically, section 61 of the Nassit Act, stipulated that:
“The Trust May within 5 years after the commencement of this Act, take over the responsibility for the payment of pensions to:
a) persons receiving pensions from the government or any other employer, or
b) persons entitled to pensions which are not yet due from government or any other employer, if the government so requests the Trust in writing and pays to the Trust, the cost of transferring the responsibility to the Trust”.

Why don’t Ministers, Deputies, Ambassadors and deputies, attaches, heads of agencies and departments and subverted agency heads pay into nassit? I don’t see any laws precluding them from participating in the Nassit.

If we are to continue paying over 55 percent of the nation’s GDP as wage bill to government political officials and such huge outlay as their pension benefits, it is thus no wonder that our nation has stayed so stagnant over the decades. Where is the revenue required for development and services of our nation’s economy and basic infrastructure going to come from?

All revenues including loans and grants from international institutions, seem to be only used to perpetuate and sustain this immoral system of feeding a largely inefficient and bloated bureaucracy at the expense of development programs for the public.

I know and agree under current statutes pensions such as these are payable. What we are trying to bring to the attention of Sierra Leoneans is the need to debate, reform and or repeal some of these self-serving unconscionable laws, that benefit only the political class in the country.

Laws such as these that allow for payments of such pensions, in a bankrupt country from IMF development funds, at the expense of dying babies is unconscionable and must be changed!

I’m more interested in the policy ramifications of such pension entitlements and their sustainability. As such, we need to debate whether pensions for past government officials should be paid from the consolidated revenue fund or have the government officials contribute to the Nassit and receive pensions at retirement, like the rest of working Sierra Leoneans.

The question most approximately being asked and discussed, in light of these lump sum payments, should be why is the government paying some of these certified crooks and public thieves with IMF development funds? This is really unconscionable and these payments could have gone a long way to create employment and public services rather than paying former government officials whose theft of public funds is still being investigated and exposed. What a country we have in Salone!

This issue must rise above party politics, for people can still support and vote for their respective parties - but even as party members, we need to continue advocacy to our elected leaders, to change some of such very unconscionable and regressive laws in our country.

All government pension payments were to be transferred into the National Social Security Trust (Nassit) scheme under the 2001 pension Act. If this had been effected with the above mentioned government officials, no political ramifications would have come with their pension payments.

We need to have independent policy review think-tanks, advocacy and civil society groups ensuring that synergies are maintained in sometimes divergent constitutional mandates and laws, as is the case with provision by government of pensions. These groups or eminent qualified professionals must be made part of the legislative process in developing, reviewing or providing inputs on the impact of laws and their efficacy and effectiveness.

It is the same issue with MPs pensions, which are currently being paid directly from the consolidated revenue funds.

We need to have harmonization of some of these pension laws, otherwise sustainability will be compromised at the developmental expense of our people. Since our laws do not have sunset clauses or provisions, we must ensure their periodic impact & compliance reviews.

The Bar association, the SLAJ and other pressure groups in the country need to be more proactive in ensuring that parliamentary hearings addressing such issues, as pensions harmonization are implemented to forestall such unfunded liabilities. The Nassit must also be proactive in asserting their mandate to takeover all government managed pensions.

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