The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted lives around the world. In Rwanda, the past over 12 months have been extremely difficult for those at the bottom of the economic pyramid who were unable to work remotely.
This week, we highlight the plight of pensioners who have to depend on handouts from family members and their pension. But the pandemic has seen many lose jobs including those that supported the pensioners.
As a result, some have become total dependants, while others can barely meet their basic needs or take care of their dependants, which has exacerbated their illnesses and worries, a far cry from the life they expected upon retirement.
At the peak of the pandemic, people who had lost jobs took to social media platforms petitioning the government to release pension funds to contributors in critical need.
But to release pension funds ahead of retirement would require amendment of the law and new guidelines for Rwanda Social Security Board (RSSB) to intervene.
There is a need for members of parliament to consider revisiting the pension law to accommodate the new realities caused by the pandemic.
Many pensioners wonder why RSSB which is charged with social security is not doing more to cater for the needs of its members. For example, while RSSB claims that the recently launched private pension scheme Ejo Heza will help mobilise savings including those in the informal sector, the initiative is only attractive to those who are still employed or have a source of income.
It does not address the needs of the elderly that may not be able to get back to work.
One of the key concerns pensioners have been raising for the past decade is how meagre their benefits are.
The law provides for a review of pension calculations after every five years, but they say this hasn't happened in the last 30 years.
Some earn as little as Rwf7,000 per month, yet they have dependants while some have illnesses they are managing.
There is a need to determine those who need and qualify for temporary relief as we wait for the ongoing actuarial study communicated by RSSB recently.
This would inform a review of the existing pension law and policies around the fund, and a fresh assessment of which member recommendations are feasible.
In addition, failure to amend the law governing the minimum wage means that many Rwandans will continue to live hand to mouth without sufficient savings after retirement.
Worse still, lower monthly income means one will most likely get peanuts after retirement. The minimum wage is a direct determinant of how much someone earns during their productive years and how much he or she will earn in pension. Its absence means their predicaments will only get worse, as the economy contracts and the cost of living rises.
The government must do more to protect the most vulnerable in our society.