The Coronavirus pandemic has aggravated the pain of Rwandan pensioners as many have lost sources of income they set up to complement their meagre pension.
For some pensioners, it is a double loss as they depended on financial handouts from their children but this support is now gone after their children also lost their sources of income in job and business losses.
For years, some pensioners have been earning as low as Rwf7,000 in monthly pension disbursements, yet some have dependents while others are in poor health.
Africain Biraboneye, the secretary-general of Cestrar, an umbrella body for all workers trade unions, said it would be diversionary to tie the economic struggles of pensioners to the pandemic.
“The problem of the meagre pension benefits existed way before the pandemic, but it aggravated their plight, many lost their side incomes.”
He said, as a body, they have appealed to the Rwanda Social Security Board (RSSB) and other relevant government agencies to review pension amounts but nothing has changed.
“The law says the percentages should be reviewed every five years, but it has not been reviewed for the past 30 years.”
“Earning a salary of Rwf100,000 in the 1980s is not the same as earning Rwf100,000 in 2021. The value has totally changed. That’s why these numbers had to be revised but this hasn’t happened.
People are suffering.” He said much as there was a pension increment a few years ago, especially for the low-income earners, it was too insignificant to change anything.
“It was little, and it was just a reactive move after many complaints. It was not a policy so it didn’t change much,” he said.
Cestrar has also applied for the review of the country’s retirement age from 60 to at least 55. The pension law says a pensioner can only be eligible to access his or her pension at 60 years, which Africain terms unfair, that the eligibility age should be reduced to 55 at least.
“It doesn’t make sense for someone to lose a job and end up dying of hunger yet there is a fund he has been contributing to that he can’t access because he is not yet 60”.
Director-General of RSSB Regis Rugemanshuro, said while it is not possible to withdraw money from the pension fund, one can access their savings under the recently launched Ejo Heza scheme.
“There is science behind how a pension fund works. There are specific formulas that define how it works, and a small, single parameter can threaten its long-term sustainability," he said.
He said much as pension withdrawals as suggested by people cannot be done, the body is doing an actuarial study to see how much more the fund can be used to meet member’s needs.
According to the pension body, less than 10 percent of Rwandans currently save for their pension, meaning the 90 percent that do not are likely to face or live in old-age poverty. The majority work in the informal sector.
Now the government hopes that the recently launched long-term saving scheme dubbed ‘Ejo Heza’ administered by RSSB will attract membership from the informal sector. The scheme targets mobilising at least Rwf 20 billion in the next three years.