Fri | Aug 18, 2017

Pension promise - More than 40,000 government pensioners assured of improved service in 2017

Published:Sunday | July 10, 2016 | 7:00 AMRyon Jones
Eighty-one-year-old pensioner Claud Staines at the Administrator General’s Department last week.

In wake of increasing complaints from pensioners, Accountant General Carlene Murdock is giving assurances that there will be significant improvements come next year.

This will be made possible by the use of technology, as the Accountant General's Department move away from its now totally paper-based system.

"We have pipeline projects that will eradicate this paper system. We will be biometrically identifying each pensioner and we have already done our pilot project," Murdock told The Sunday Gleaner.

"And when this thing takes off we are going to have fewer persons saying that they have been suspended. We are going to have less disgruntled pensioners, because while the paper-based method is going to still be available, it is going to be a matter of choice.

"We want to get the pensioners in the payroll system in almost real-time fashion. It is in the developmental stages, but it is coming," added Murdock.

POOR SYSTEM

In recent months, some of the country's more than 40,000 pensioners have expressed displeasure with the difficulties they have faced to get their pension monthly.

"I don't think they have a good system and I don't think one has been worked out," 75-year-old pensioner, Yvonne Campbell, told The Sunday Gleaner.

"One of the major problems is the life certificate, which you come in and people drop in a box. And people are always saying that they dropped the life certificate in the box, but they haven't received any pension, and then when they go there they say they don't have it, and the people keep saying they carried it and placed it in the box.

"So they need something that is more secure, and when you drop it (life certificate) in and you get something stamped," said Campbell, who charged that despite having retired one year ago she received her first pension payout only last month.

Campbell also lamented the large number of persons who usually converge at the pension office on a daily basis, resulting in long waiting periods.

She admitted that her paperwork was not submitted two years before her retirement, as is encouraged by the Accountant General's Department, but argued that this was due to her workplace repeatedly asking her to stay on another month.

Fellow pensioner Linneth Anderson said she and her husband submitted their life certificates, which they are required to do every three months, but having received their pension for January and February, did not receive any for March.

"Pensioners are catching hell, because when we retire it is taking months before we can get the little pittance from them," said Anderson.

"It is embarrassing, because you can't pay your bills and you owe people."

Campbell who, like Anderson, hails from Portland, shared a similar story, as she received her pension in January but she did not receive any more until June.

"And they were telling me that they didn't receive my (life) certificate, but that couldn't have been because it is one paper for three months, so from I got for January and February I should have received March," Campbell contended.

"And what I saw in the media was a lie, because they are saying we are not sending in the right life certificates. They send it through the mail to us, so where would we get the wrong one?"

But Murdock said that those who did not receive their March pension may have not remembered to submit a life certificate for that period, and had only received for the first two months of the year because of the grace period.

THREE-MONTH PERIOD

"If they got paid for January and February, but not for March and April, it means that the last life certificate we received from them would have ended in December," said Murdock.

"We really have a three-month life certificate period, but because of how things are we allow an additional two months. It means, therefore, that we do not cut them off or suspend them at the end of three months. This is against our rules, but we have done it out of compassion."

This explanation did not find favour with Anderson, however, as she said her and her husband's life certificates were sent in using registered mail, so she has proof.

"They are saying the pensioners are not doing what they are supposed to do, but we are filling out our forms and taking them in. The pensioners are not to be blamed!" argued Anderson.

The pensioners also questioned why income tax was still being taken from their pension monthly despite them being over 65, but the Accountant General's Department explained that as long as a pensioner is earning more than the tax threshold they will still pay income tax.

Shahine also

promises change

In her contribution to the 2016 Sectoral Debate, Minister of Labour and Social Security Shahine Robinson also promised improved service to pensioners.

"Mr Speaker, it is important that I acknowledge, as minister, the plethora of complaints being levelled about the inefficiency of the NIS (National Insurance Scheme). I assure the people of Jamaica that your concerns are noted. Activities have already commenced to modernise its operations, including:

"New software to significantly reduce the time for processing applications for benefits. The modular roll-out of this software has already begun and should be completed within this financial year.

"Modern payment modalities for both local and overseas-based pensioners, for which work has already commenced.

"Organisational review of the Social Security Division and other operations in order to ensure proper alignment, greater efficiency and a proactive NIS - with its concomitant role in the growth process."

ryon.jones@gleanerjm.com