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MBABANE – If you are above the age of 60 and on pension yet also benefitting from elderly grants, you might have to forego the latter benefit.

Government, in the newly-launched National Development Plan 2019-2022, wants to “remove anyone from social assistance progammes who are not eligible (e.g. pensioners)”.

This is one of the interventions by government aimed to “improve targeting of social assistance programmes”.
Running parallel to the NDP is the Eswatini Strategic Roadmap 2019-2022 which also contains a policy to improve quality of life for underprivileged Emaswati by streamlining social grants through census, improving access through mobile/EFT payments and increasing the social grants

According to the Public Service Pension Fund (PSPF) annual report for the year 2017, there were 26 035 retired pensioners and other dependants as at end March 31 2017.

There was no readily available statistic on those pensioners under the Eswatini National Provident Fund, which should have the highest number of pensioners.
Retired civil servant Elliot Mkhatshwa, who is deputy chairperson of the Swaziland Pensioners Association – Mbabane Branch, is livid at this intervention.

He has dared the Ambrose Mandvulo Dlamini-headed government to implement this intervention. According to the NDP, there are 69,697 Old Age Grant (OAG) beneficiaries and each one of these elderly persons gets E400 monthly, which is usually paid quarterly at E1200 per beneficiary. The OAG is the biggest social cash transfer programme in the country.

wishful thinking

There is also the Disability Grant, which reportedly has only 4 744 beneficiaries who are paid a monthly transfer of E180 but it is said to have stopped registering new beneficiaries a few years ago.

Reacting to the government intervention, Mkhatshwa this was the wishful thinking of an individual because the decision to remove pensioners from the OAG could only come from His Majesty the King.

“It is the King who announced that all persons who have reached 60 years shall be paid the grant. The person who has decided against this has failed to apply their minds because firstly they should have consulted us even though they don’t qualify to engage us on this issue because it was given to us by the King,” he said.
Mkhatshwa said this was clearly and extension of what the previous Deputy Prime Minister Paul Dlamini said in parliament when he too mulled such a decision. “We will definitely challenge this,” he said.

He said the money that they received as pension was deservedly theirs because they worked for it and the elderly grant was for the country’s elderly citizens.
“This is just madness. They should stop it as once. We will challenge them in court if they go ahead with this plan,” he said.

put the plan on the table

Mkhatshwa said government should have called all stakeholders and put the plan on the table where it would have been discussed and an amicable solution reached. “Being a pensioner doesn’t remove the fact that I am also an elderly citizen; that’s simple. So what is the basis of this decision,” he said.

On the other hand, Deputy Prime Minister Themba Masuku said not all pensioners would be removed from the list of OAG beneficiaries but only those who are on ‘high pension’.   “When we started this thing there was a cut-off point of E1000, where someone earning pension above this amount would not benefit from the elderly grant.

This we did because we saw that there were those teachers of yesteryears who were getting around only E400 pension hence the decision for the cut off. If there was then a change, the roadmap says we should re-adjust because you might find that there are those on high pension and also getting the grant. That will have a negative impact on what we are trying to do particularly because we also provide free health care to those above 60 years,” the DPM explained.

However, he stated that this issue was still open to further discussions as stated by the prime minister during the launch of the roadmap on Monday. He said some of the things might even go to parliament to be debated because there could be need to amend certain legislation. “But you can imagine that you might have someone who is receiving E10 000 in pension going to queue in the same place with an elderly woman who receives E400. So that was the thinking,” Masuku said.

He said they would definitely engage with the pensioners to discuss the argument that they deserved to benefit from the two schemes because they worked for their pension and are also elderly citizens who qualify for the OAG as announced by the King.  
Just like Mkhatshwa, Patrick Bhembe, the president of the Swaziland Pensioners Association, said they would not take government’s intention lying down.

attention it deserved

He said as pensioners they were going to give this matter the attention it deserved and engage government on it. “As an association we will look at it and definitely engage government,” he said while noting that it appeared as though government was targeting pensioners who are former civil servants. He said it was not only retired civil servants who were benefitting from the elderly grants but also those from the private sector.

“How are they going to track down those who were working in the private sector,” he wondered while clarifying that they were not against these pensioners benefitting from the grant. 

“The criterion for benefitting is that anybody who is 60 years and above, because this is a social security, so everyone above this age should benefit,” Bhembe said.
He said they had previously engaged the former Deputy Prime Minister, Paul Dlamini, on the same issue when there was talk of excluding pensioners from the OAG and that is when a committee was put in place to specifically deal with the matter. He said this committee should be consulted by government in addressing this issue.

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