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May 8, 2020

EOBI pensioners

Opinion

May 8, 2020

The six hundred thousand (0.6 million) pensioners of the Employees Old-Age Benefits Institution (EOBI) were happy to receive increased pension in April 2020.

Their pension was increased from Rs6500 to Rs8500 per month. They received Rs12500 in April, including two months arrears as the PTI government increased the pension from January 2020.

Prime Minister Imran Khan called this another step towards formation of an Islamic welfare state. Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resource Development Zulfiqar Hussain Bukhari vowed to increase the pension to Rs15, 000 per month in the next three years of the PTI government.

EOBI pensioners were happy to receive extra money in the middle of a lockdown imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Pensioners and trade unions praised the PTI government for the increase. But this happiness was short-lived. They received a message from the EOBI helpline that the increase in pension was made without fulfilling the legal requirements so they will receive Rs6500 in May 2020.

The legal procedure is that the Board of Trustees of the EOBI consisting of trade union representatives, industrialists and government officials are to give approval for increase of pension. This approval is then sent to the federal cabinet for final approval. The government then issues an official notification in this regard. The EOBI department or board cannot make payment to pensioners without the approval of the federal government and PM.

In this case, the EOBI department and Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resource Development paid the increased amount to pensioners without getting approval from the federal cabinet. The increase given in April was reversed in May. Pensioners were shocked to hear this news. Now they are worried about possible recovery of arrears in the coming months. They are worried that deductions in their meager pensions will make their already miserable lives more painful.

Poor old pensioners have been in agony since they officially learnt about this development. They are wondering what will happen if the EOBI department decides to deduct the arrears from their meager pension.

They are desperately looking towards Prime Minister Imran Khan to fulfill his promise. They are wondering why this is happening to them when the government is claiming to make Pakistan a welfare state.

Pensioners are suffering because officials of the EOBI department and the Board increased EOBI pension without fulfilling the legal requirements. The mistake made by some ‘babus’ sitting in their comfortable offices have caused enormous problems, difficulties and mental torture to pensioners mostly in their 70s. Most of them are ill. They are not in a position to move the high courts or the Supreme Court against the official negligence and incompetence. The honourable chief justice of Pakistan can help these poor old pensioners by taking suo-motu notice.

Some trade unions have raised their voice for pensioners but no top government official has so far taken notice of this situation and to provide relief to pensioners. The trade unions are demanding that the EOBI department should not make deductions in pensions. They should fulfill the legal requirements and pay the increased pension of Rs 8500.

This is all happening in the middle of a crisis. On the one hand, the PTI government is trying to help the millions of poor people with the Ehsaas Cash Programe, but on the other hand just over half a million old pensioners are suffering as the result of poor decisions or incompetence of some top officials of the EOBI.

It is really disturbing to see that the officers and board members of the department, who get billions in terms of pays and benefits, have failed to fulfill the legal and official perquisites for increasing pension to Rs8,500 from Rs6,500.

The interesting fact is that EOBI pension is not a state pension provided from the exchequer. Industrialists and workers both contribute to the EOBI fund. The government hardly makes a contribution in this fund. Every year, billions of rupees are contributed in this fund. The EOBI department and board manage the fund and assets. The EOBI earns billions of rupees every year from the investments it makes. The main responsibility of this department is to provide pension to workers when they retire at the age of 60.

Despite the mismanagement and corruption of billions of rupees over the years in this department, it still has enough funds to pay for higher pensions to more workers. The question is why so few workers are receiving old age pension while millions are working in the country. The reason is that only few workers are registered in social security to become eligible for old age pension after retirement.

The social security departments in provinces only register workers through their employers. Employers just register a fraction of workers working in their industries and businesses. Governments want to reach out to the affected workers but lack of accurate data and absence of an integrated social security system is making this process more problematic.

This law and regulation needs to be changed so every worker working at every workplace or self-employed can register him/herself with the social security department. Millions of workers are not registered with social security, so they really do not exist for government departments.

The writer is a freelance journalist.