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The Killid Group
Try to live with 170 dollars per yearWritten by Mohammad Reza Gulkohi
Sunday, 17 October 2010 11:46
Working for years, sometimes decades, employees of the Afghan government find themselves scraping together a living after retirement, their pension benefits so meager that they cannot make ends meet.
"I worked in Ministry of Health for 20 years and I am currently being paid 8500 Afs ($170) per year as my pension, an amount that does not even cover my expenses for one month", says Hakima, a 66-year old woman. Sitting on the cold floor of the Afghan Pensions Office, Hakima appears tired and sad as she waits for the small sum of money that is expected to see her through the year. Hakima was widowed during the war, which also claimed the life of a son and she now struggles to feed and clothe a family of five. Hakima is not the only one. Many former employees have gathered in the office to collect their pay, but what exactly are their rights?
Pension payment is one of the rights of all government employees and is enshrined in Article 53 of the Afghan Constitution. "The state shall guarantee the rights of retirees, and shall render necessary aid to the elderly, women without caretaker, disabled and handicapped as well as poor orphans, in accordance with provisions of the law", the article states.
"According to the system of payment of salaries of government employees, a small amount is deducted from the salary each month towards the pension payment", says Qasem Qasemi, a legal expert. "The pension therefore is a part of the earnings of the employee during his service period in the government."
Haji Gul Mohammad Montazer is head of the Afghan Pensioners Treasury. He states that the conflict and the regime changes have made it difficult for the Afghan government to enhance the payments. "Not only the pensioners, but even our current employees are being paid inadequately. What should we do? The Afghan government does not have the capacity to pay more than this. On the one hand no one hears our voices and on the other we know the Afghan government cannot enhance the salaries and pensions. Therefore, we have not suggested it yet."
Montazer blames Afghan senior officials and MPs for ignoring the situation of retired and serving Afghan government employees, saying everyone only thinks about their own interests. "The Afghan parliament has not taken up the issue of increase of government salaries even once in a serious manner. But we saw that they took up the issue of increase of their own salaries and privileges as seriously as possible", Montazer says.
Millions against peanuts
The Afghan National Employees Association has criticized the government in its many statements, and said "the Afghan government has made many commitments to the people in the recent years but has not been able to bring any specific change in the living standards of people by increasing salaries, pensions, insurance and social security measures. At the same time millions of dollars have been paid to foreign advisors and high ranking officials of the Afghan government for their unnecessary and costly expenses."
Wazir Mohammad, who served as an engineer in the Ministry of Mines for 20 years, is paid 13,800 Afs (approximately $276) annually as his pension. He wants the Afghan government to pay him for his twenty years of work in a lump sum. "I have received pension for five years and if they pay me 15 years more in one lump sum, it would solve my problems." Montazer however says this is not possible. "We receive our budget every quarter from the Ministry of Finance and pensions are being paid according to annual schedule."
The pension department pays 110,000 people their pensions, 80,000 of them in Kabul alone. Montazer believes there is no corruption in the system of payments, something acknowledged by the pensioners. Wazir Mohammad is fully satisfied that the payments are made honestly, but Hakima says she has had to come to the department three times. Acknowledging that this might be the case, Montazer says this is because payments are made according to a schedule with military personnel paid first followed by civilians. But he says that exceptions are made when people are disabled or ill or in urgent need of money.
The amount of pensions varies from employee to employee determined by their job as well as years of service. Sayed Nader Ahmadi Is quite satisfied with his pension. He worked approximately 40 years in different positions in Radio Television Afghanistan, the state broadcaster. "I receive 7,400 Afs ($148) monthly because of my 40 years of service." But most pensioners wait through the year to receive their pensions, a small amount of money inadequate for their needs.