Pension Increase ‘Sign of Things to Come’

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By Surihe Gaomas WINDHOEK Some senior citizens have warmly welcomed the latest increase on their pensions from N$300 to N$370 a month. However, others feel that the high cost of living would not be met by the additional N$70. On Thursday last week, Finance Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila announced the N$70 increase for pensioners, which will be made available end of this month. “We are happy that government is also looking at our needs. For too long, the money was not enough and even now it is not enough, but at least a good effort,” said one elderly lady. “Any little money that comes our way as the senior citizens of this country from our new President is a blessing indeed. “May God bless this government,” added another man in his late 60s. He said this was sign of better things to come. It appears that although the gap between what it costs for a pensioner to survive and their monthly payouts is still unsatisfactorily wide, the gesture by government was generally accepted with wide smiles. For the elderly who demonstrated over a pension increase late last year, the increase is long overdue. Yet it is still a far cry from the N$700 increase they had demanded last year. “As a senior citizen, my life is not easy at all. It is all about survival, because your very own family throws you away when you become old,” said another, adding that the increase is at least some kind of welcome relief. Some pensioners feel the amount of N$370 is still not enough to cater for the day-to-day needs, plus having to feed orphans and vulnerable children in their care. “After I buy some maize meal, sugar, tea, bread and some meat in the shop, there is still not enough money for me to pay the water and electricity bills,” said one elderly woman who has seven children to feed. In a recent press statement, Executive Director of Women’s Action for Development, (WAD) Veronica De Klerk expressed displeasure with the fact that old people are still the “dumping ground” for grandchildren on top of their already difficult living conditions. “WAD expresses its disappointment that pensioners have indeed become the dumping ground for young people who regularly leave their children with their grandparents without paying maintenance for their children or neglecting to pay school fees for them, depriving pensioners even further of money to survive!” reads WAD’s press statement. The organisation strongly encourages the elderly to press charges against such young people who continually contravene the Child Maintenance Law. Those whose parents are pensioners were further urged not to become complacent in thinking that the rise is adequate. De Klerk expressed appreciation for the fact that through the latest pension increase, there was acknow-ledgement from government that pensioners are lowly paid and that there was a will to change the situation for the better. De Klerk went on to say that if corruption was tackled more effectively, government could have more funds to increase pensions. “White collar officials who engage in corrupt practices are depriving pensioners of a humane way of living,” she stated. In an effort to stop social decay, “shop owners especially in rural areas who are regularly capitalizing on pension payouts should also demonstrate their social responsibility to ensure that severely impoverished pensioners who have a drinking problem, first purchase a month’s supply of for example maize meal, before selling them liquor,” concluded De Klerk in the press statement. This is the second such increase by government since April 2004, when the grant was raised from N$250 to N$300. According to the National Budget, government will spend N$395 million over the next three years to maintain the N$70 increase.