Of late, social security funds have assumed centre stage in public discourse following a provision within the current Act of Parliament which bars its members from getting their benefits until they attain retirement age -- set at a voluntary 55 years and compulsory 60 years. Members of the various funds are worried that they may not reach the retirement age alive, let alone still at work.
This suggests that the security of employment of some of the members of the social security funds -- particularly those in private sectors -- is very low such that any time they may find themselves out of employment with little chance of getting employed.
Yet some are worried and advance that these funds are facing financial crises, and others could be in danger of bankruptcy. It is not only the issues of crisis and bankruptcy, but also the red tape and inefficiency of these funds, particularly in relation to record keeping and disbursement of members’ benefits.
As they stand now, following up any pension benefits would exhaust even the most resilient heavy-weight boxer; we dare say that terrible things could happen if pensioners aged 55 years and above are subjected to that kind of treatment. It is simple: they will die before they get those benefits.
Members are also accusing the funds of investing their money in unviable projects and lending to non-members while snubbing deserving members.
In this discussion, we have not recorded any comments from members of these funds, some of whom may have lost the ability to work and provide for themselves and their dependants. Indeed, what is missing in the public discourse is serious lack of understanding of the essence of the social security schemes. Why were they established, in the first place? What are their objectives and purposes? How do they operate?
We do not have to go far to understand them; social security schemes are as old as human societies in which they operate – they work to provide for lost ability to generate basic needs – when people need them badly. There are two forms of social security, namely, informal and formal social security schemes – which could also be classified in terms of contributions – where there are also two forms: contributory and non- contributory social security schemes.
In African traditional society, social security was inbuilt in extended family networks going back more than three generations living under one roof to provide for each other.
Lack of ability to provide for basic needs was also taken care of by a pattern of production and consumption which ensured that potential resources and reserves were under the custodian of the most senior members of the family who could allow exploitation of the potential resources and reserves at the critical situation.
The luckiest one among us will recall how the head of the family could let his or her family take meals of vegetables even when the cage was full of chicken which could be slaughtered at will.
We also could recall on how senior female members of the family were protecting crops set aside as seeds for replanting in the coming season, or practices such as polygamy and bearing of many children which were also a means of providing for social security. To further ensure provision in times of need, settlements were carefully designed in such a way that put closer clan members as well as tribe members with the aggregate of them making a chiefdom.
In our modified society, formation of social groups and creation of social networks are measures taken to provide for social security which supplement contributory social security schemes. We could be members of self-help group formed on the basis of tribe, places of origin or occupation or even place of residence.
The common themes of these groups are funerals and weddings. There is precious little evidence that there exists any self-help group providing for the daily needs of its members.
The formal and modern social security schemes have been around for the past two centuries. John G.Kilgour, Professor Emeritus, California State University at East Bay says in his research, Social Security Funds in 21st Century, indicates that such schemes have been around for the past 75 years within American society.
At 50 years, independent Tanzania has six social security funds, namely, the National Social Security Fund (NSSF); Parastatal Pensions Fund (PPF); Government Employees Pension Fund (GEPF); Public Sector Pension Fund (PSPF); Local Authority Pension Fund (LAPF) and Zanzibar Social Security Fund (ZSSF). All these are regulated by the Social Security Regulatory Authority (SSRA).
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) as quoted by The National Social Security Policy of 2003 defines Social security as the protection measures which society provides for its members, through a series of public measures against economic and social distress that would otherwise be caused by the stoppages or substantial reduction of earnings resulting from sickness, maternity, employment injury, unemployment, disability, old age, death, the provision of medical care subsidies for families with children.
Professor Kilgour helps us to describe the status of social security in the world through his analysis in the United State thus: “The Social Security programme is now 75 years old and debate and reform are in the air. Some decry that its benefits are inadequate and should be improved, especially for lifetime low earners, women and minorities.
“Others, more loudly, proclaim that the system is in financial difficulty and, if nothing is done, will soon go broke. As a result of the last major amendments enacted in 1983, Social Security trust funds now have reserves of $2.5 trillion, at least on paper. However, the trust funds are an accounting device. “There is no real money there. It has been spent by the Treasury to fund other government programmes and has served to mask a significant portion of the federal deficit for the past 25 years.”
By nature, social security is not a needs-based programme, rather it is a social insurance programme, albeit with a progressive benefits structure. From the public discourse this nature of Social Security has to be modified meaning it has to be oriented to needs-may be daily needs.
These feeling of the public are in consisted with the view of one social scientist who argues that: “A new understanding of the balance between social and economic benefits has emerged with respect to the fiscal and economic cost of national social security systems. The debate is now shifting from the need for social security at early stages of economic development to the deliverability of social security benefits…|”
With the evidence gathered from The National Social Security Policy of 2003, the ILO definition and the description of the status Social Security above, social security fund are supposed to cover their members and provide them at least 9 benefits. The situation is the highest benefit provided is seven which is provided by only one fund-NSSF. Over all the benefit provided besides being inadequate, also leave much to be desired.
But there is nothing significant that warranty and justify the ideas that social security schemes are something this modern society can afford to do without it. This discussion also see no justification in changing the nature of Social Security, its objectives and purposes are increasingly becoming even more relevant than before.
Nature cannot be created or destroyed. All what the human being can do is to orient nature to suit the prevailing situation. This is what we should be asking the managers of social security funds to do for its members.
Some have tried, but it is not enough, they need to do more. Another issue which has to be addressed is harmonization of need and insurance. Social security members subscribe to needs while social security funds subscribe to insurance.
This is the outcome of poor socialization; social security funds have taken no trouble to educate its members of all the ABC of social security. They take everything for granted with the aid of the law. If you ask them, they always come with this section and that section of the parliament act without given explanation how do they match with what is actually happening in the real world.
They can not even tell its members the benefit on their menu. For those who have managed to do so and in so doing have attracted more members, their effort has not paid off as members cannot easily get these benefits. The situation is like a restaurant with a long and attracting menu, while it doesn’t have all the ingredients required to prepare it, nor cooks who can prepare and serve it on order.
The concept of insurance should also be looked at. If a member has let say few million shillings in contributions with Social Security fund and is in need of a part of it to start or improve on a viable economic project, Social Security fund should be responsive to that need with minimal bureaucracy and in so doing bring about harmonization of needs and insurance.
After all that is exactly what the social security fund are doing to the governments world wide. We know that half of what we claim as our saving with the social security fund is owed to the action of the government in its capacity as the law enforcer and as an employer. The other half comes from the members earning, thus it high time Social Security Funds start thinking of doing to its members what they are doing to the government short of that the essence of social security will be compromised.
The author is a businessman and a Masters student currently studying Sociology at Saint Augustine University of Tanzania.