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Badilisha Lugha KISWAHILI

When the new social security law becomes truly anti-social

5th August 2012

The fact that we are living in a socially insecure environment is not disputable, at least among those who bother to observe what is going on in our a rapidly changing society. There are many tell-tale signs to prove the obvious, and we can only mention a few of them in this limited space.

Yes, we are in a situation where most of the citizens in the land of apparent peace are surviving under conditions which are anything but social security friendly. The two-digit inflation which for the past few months has fluctuated within the range of 15-20 percent, when incomes are not rising correspondingly and are even dropping in some cases, is making life both difficult and insecure to many living souls.

Unemployment, especially among the youth, continues to be a time bomb waiting to explode, although half-measures meant to contain the problem are being implemented. The extended family practice, which in the past used to provide social security to the aged, widows and orphans is crumbling fast, exposing the hitherto beneficiaries to all sorts of social security-related problems.

The above introductory remarks are meant to underscore one intended point in this write-up, that is, since workers and peasants of this country are already victims of social insecurity, introduction of any new laws and programmes in this area must aim at ensuring the bad situation is not made unnecessarily worse.

Does the new social security law passed by parliament in April this year, and already endorsed by the President, meet the objectives of introducing positive changes in society?

The new social security law, which has replaced the old one, introduces a new system where key stakeholders, that is workers making monthly contributions to the pension funds, as a form of insurance for the proverbial rainy day and old age, are not allowed to access their money until they reach the voluntary retirement age of 55 years, or the mandatory one of 60 years - no matter what kind of emergency situation the contributor to the fund finds himself or herself in.

As we continue to witness, revelation that implementation of the new arrangement will soon begin has literally raised hell. Trade unionists, leaders of opposition political parties, civic movement activists, and other public opinion leaders are up in arms condemning the new changes and demanding immediate unconditional amendment of the unpalatable and unjustifiable articles in the new law. The pressure seems to be too big to be successfully resisted by the authorities behind the new change.

Those against the new arrangement cite an example which is easy to comprehend. At 45 years a worker who has been contributing to one of the pension funds for 20 years loses his/her job through retrenchment or any other reasons, and decides to establish a self-reliance project.

It happens that he/she has no any other savings apart from the reserve in the pension fund. The new law requires this contributor to wait for 10 years to have access to the saving which can give him/her a good take-off to self- employment world! Those opposing the new approach say this is ridiculous and unacceptable.

Now, all sorts of issues are being raised in the wake of this development. There is this bureaucrat in the social security sector, who the other day openly opined that the new change is in the interests of workers, as it takes care of their wellbeing in old age.

But is it proper, or wise, for that matter, to expose a person to economic hardship in his or her middle age in order to give him/her care in old age? Does the monetary benefit which is not adjustable to inflation make much sense to a person who can utilize it when he/she is still energetic and secure assets likely to be more beneficial in future?

Another observation made by analysts and critics is that since social security business, involving members who contribute to the pension funds, has two clearly defined parties; one would expect them to negotiate and agree on the terms which work in the interests of both.

Hence, any government laws on this kind of undertaking should take this fact into consideration, and allow for flexibility where necessary. We are living in a world where contracts of this kind should be worked out democratically, short of which resistance from the short- changed party is inevitable.

Of concern also is how the honorable MPs passed the controversial law without noticing the articles likely to be unacceptable to workers. Is it evidence that the keenness and concentration of our legislators when passing sensitive laws leave much to be desired? As hinted earlier, it is unnecessary to further frustrate the already hungry and angry workers of this country.-

Henry Muhanika is a media consultant. [email protected]

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