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Monday, November 30, 2020

Letters: Pensioners receive minimal lip service from SSHFC

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Dear editor,
Taking cognisance of the current status and achievements of Social Security and Housing Finance Corporation, we can comfortably argue that the corporation has over decades only accorded minimal lip service to its pensioners, by the grace of whom it has reached to where it is.

Understandably from its inception in 1972, the major sources of income for the corporation are derived from the Pension and Injury Compensation contributions. These contributions are made compulsory on quasi-government organisations on behalf of their employees, to enable the corporation take proper care of any such staff that goes on pension. Hence, as it is mandatory on these institutions to contribute on behalf of their staff, it’s similarly mandatory on SSHFC to provide good and acceptable pension benefits to those workers on attainment of their pension ages. But evidently that’s not what obtains. Besides clandestine calculated pension benefits and imposed pittance monthly allowances, no substantial security support is provided by the corporation to its pensioners.

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Invariably, the bulk of pensioners responsible to government far outweighs that of SSHFC, but we have in the recent past witnessed the bold and considerate steps taken by the Finance Ministry in raising workers’ salaries and pensioners’ allowances by 50% and 100% respectively. The positive step taken by government in 2019 came at a time when there was a major overhaul at the top echelon of the corporation. Hence the corporation’s pensioners had hoped to be considered for similar allowance increment. To their utmost disappointment however, the maximum pension increment was peg at 33%, while middle-income earners were offered 16%.According to bank statements pensioners receiving monthly allowances of D910 over the past 7 to 10 years, had a pension increment by D300 to D1,210. This reflects a 33% pay rise. Those that received D2,362saw arise by 16% to D2,740. The fact that pensioners were paid a 13-month drawback (from Jan 2018 to Jan 2019), clearly proved that either the corporation’s board of governors or management (or both), had incubated over these pension increments and timely decision could not be made over 12 months. The drawback payment was featured in the print media in pretext of showing the corporation’s benevolence to its pensioners, when every credit should go to government in recognition of effecting an unprecedented100% pension increment. This gives reason for government to inquire about why the two pension sectors were treated differently. We are all Gambians that meet at the same market, equally suffer the brunt of inflation and feed on the same food.

The recent three months allowance given as loans by SSHFC to its pensioners is another show of lip service demonstrated by the corporation. In view of the nationwide food relief packages freely accorded by government to needy Gambians, and supplemented by philanthropist individuals and civil society organisations, it is incumbent on the corporation to emulate these positive steps.

To effectively participate in the nationwide campaign against the Covid-19 pandemic, the corporation would have done much better if it provides free food aid or free financial support to its aging pensioners, rather than imposing a loan on them. One wonders what philosophy is held by the corporation in keeping billions of idle bank deposits, whilst the majority of its pensioners could not maintain decent living standards as indicated below.
Considering a pensioner with a monthly allowance of D1,210, his or her three months allowance will equal to a loan of D3,630. If he/she attempts to buy a bag of rice for a minimum of D1,200 out of the loan, what would the balance enable him/her to support his/her family in face of the feast of Id-ul Fitr. When the pensioner begins to repay the loan of D3,630 with monthly deductions of D302.50 from the monthly allowance of D1,210, each month he or she will only have D907.50 to cater for the dining table over 12 months. One would ask here what benefit is the loan to such pensioners, not speaking of those living in rented homes?

As aforesaid, SSHFC has got to where it is due to the ever increasing gigantic savings (deposited monthly as pension contributions)on behalf of its pensioners. In an interview in early April over the Star FM radio, the embattled veteran staff of the corporation Momodou Camara has corroborated the revelations made at the TRRC associated with the corporation. That the corporation was healthy with both fixed and liquid assets which enabled the former president misappropriated billions of dalasi out of its coffers, but that did not shake the Corporation in anyway. He said that SSHFC has out of its resources solely established financial institutions and purchased large hotels in the likes of Home Finance Company, Ocean Bay and SunBeach Hotels. In conjunction to owning billions of dalasi idle deposits in various banks, (of course to the benefit of the banks), the corporation owns dominating shares in many establishments including Trust Bank (Gambia) Ltd.

The corporation’s pensioners are not jealous of its management and staff owning mansions and driving expensive vehicles, but wish to emphasis that the achievements and the present status of the corporation were derived from the pension contributions funded to the corporation on behalf of the corporation’s pensioners. Hence the corporation’s pensioners should be given better security considerations than the clandestine calculated pension benefits and pittance monthly allowances. In particular, what tangible reason could the corporation’s board of governors and management provide for not emulating government’s bold and considerate step in raising pension allowances by 100%?
Momodou K Manneh
Part-time lecturer, GTTI

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