New higher retirement age will delay pensions, Rwandan workers lament

Saturday February 13 2016

Rwandans at work. Pensioners have expressed concerns over the raising of the retirement age. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA

Rwandans at work. Pensioners have expressed concerns over the raising of the retirement age. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA 

By Moses K Gahigi

The raising of the retirement age from 55 to 60 years has drawn criticism from Rwandan pensioners, who say that the change is unfair and only favours the pension collectors and not workers.

Many assert that it is only a few people who reach retirement age and that even those who reach it do not live for long after that, since they reach it when they are broken with diminished health.

Pensioners claim that the standard of their lives and the nature of the work that most of them do affects their longevity, suggesting that the retirement age should be revised downwards.

“It’s few people who reach 60,” said Dominique Bicamumpaka, the president of advocacy committee for pension and minimum wage at Cotraf, a syndicate of workers trade unions. “The people who set this retirement age are those that sit in offices, but for people who work in difficult conditions, it’s hard to reach that age.

“People reach that age when they are broken down, others dead. The law only gives an exception to soldiers, who are put on 45 years.

“It’s unfair.”

Mr Bicamumpaka faulted the pension policy, saying giving a blanket retirement age for all workers is unreasonable because the various kinds of work treat people differently. He asked the government to go an extra mile and look into the type of jobs people do to inform the retirement age.

“They should do a study into the nature of jobs people do,” he said. “Some people work in complex situations throughout their lives, by the time they are 60, they are already broken, especially those in hard labour.”

Pensioners' plight deteriorating

Asked what action the government has taken regarding their proposed reforms and why it increased the retirement age, Mr Bicamumpaka responded that it only said that “after studying the money they collect in pension and the demographic dynamics, in 25 years they could be in losses, so they revised it upwards.”

Mr Bicamumpaka said the people who get pension benefits in Rwanda are considerably few and that they do not get it for long, adding that even those who get it, it does not help them much since it is meagre.

A research report released last year by the union of pensioners indicates that 95 per cent of the senior citizens on pension do not access life necessities from the pension benefits they receive.

That 22 per cent of the pensioners receive not more than Rwf10,000 per month — some even below Rwf5,200 — from their pension benefits.

This has made many pensioners’ plight to continue deteriorating with many lacking basic necessities such as food and proper housing while others are unable to access healthcare, which they critically need in their sunset years.

Many pensioners are said to die shortly after retirement because they are stressed and needy, with many likening going into retirement with death.

Our efforts to get specific responses from Rwanda Social Security Board (RSSB) on these concerns were futile by press time. However, in a separate e-mail communication Moses Kazoora, the head of communications at RSSB, said the relevant authorities were aware of the issues.

“We are aware of some of these issues,” said Mr Kazoora. “As RSSB, we have channelled some of them to our line ministry.

“We made our recommendations and we are waiting for something to be done.”

Without going into specifics, Mr Kazoora added: “Some of these concerns are beyond us; some of them have been forwarded to the Cabinet and we are waiting for approval.”

Wrong calculations

Pension is given according to the number of years a person worked and the salary they earned.

In the past it has been said that the government used wrong calculations and studies when coming up with the retirement age and that it looked up to countries such as Singapore and other Western nations, which are not in the same context with Rwanda, as models.

People say the unfairness of the law has put them in a position of working even when they can’t physically manage work due to their bodily disintegration.

“I don’t know where they got the idea to increase the retirement age, or who they consulted, but what I am sure is, they chose 60 for their own benefit not ours,” said an aggrieved individual who preferred anonymity. “Look at me; I’m supposed to have retired but I’m still working, and it’s hard for me.”

The source was also “not satisfied” with the way pension funds and pension issues are being handled.

“Ideally, we are supposed to be shareholders in the equity collected, whatever investments RSSB makes we have a direct stake, but at this point there is nothing much to show; all people get is a small pay” the source said.

Responding to queries on RSSB’s investments, Mr Bicamumpaka admitted that workers and pensioners have not been adequately kept in the know.

“We don’t know how much the profit was,” said Mr Bicamumpaka. “We only heard that they invested in a Kenyan investment company and they made losses; they ended up losing money.

“Workers don’t have sufficient representation on the RSSB board; we have only one and his voice cannot come out.

“It is an issue. In other places, there are many representatives; here, it’s entirely government-driven. Workers and employers are even the ones supposed to hire the CEO.”

There has been a strain on pension funds worldwide, especially in places where people have lived longer as a result of lowering the retirement age, which has put pressure on the pension funds.