LABOUR and Social Security Minister Fackson Shamenda put it bluntly recently when he said "the state of Zambia's social security system is nothing to write home about."
True, it is nothing to write home about. It is a huge scandal of a system, where people get peanuts for monthly pensions.
Reforms are needed to make it relevant to evolving social security needs.
Being a former labour union leader in the Zambia Congress of Free Trade Unions (ZCTU), Mr Shamenda knows what he is talking about.
Take for example, the case of one Mary Chilufya, widowed since 1994 and has been getting a monthly pension of K12, 700 per month. This translates to KR 12.7 in the new currency. That is precisely two dollars a month.
Now, that is the money she queues up for at the Post Office at the close of every month, year in year out.
Her husband used to work for the mines in Mufulira before he got involved in an occupational accident one day. He was incapacitated and lost his job as a result, subsequently becoming a Workers Compensation Fund Control Board (WCFCB) pensioner.
Eventually he died and his widow automatically began to benefit from the monthly pensions from the social security scheme.
One can only guess how life has been like for her.
She was left with nine children, whom she failed to take to school.
After her husband died, she left for Mansa to start a new life.
A Good Samaritan there found her a job to work as a part time cleaner at Mansa General Hospital, but even then, the money she was earning was not enough to sustain her family.
To cut, the long story short, she has been back in Mufulira for a couple of years now, surviving on the mercy of others.
Ms Chilufya now lives at a church, with two of her children. Life has been hard and the monthly pension benefit that she gets is too meager to improve her situation.
This is how pathetic the social security system has been in Zambia for a long time, something that Mr Shamenda is upset about.
The minister is in a hurry to right the wrongs in a sector which has been marred by numerous scandals.
He expressed his concern about Zambia's social security status when he installed new boards of directors for the National Pension Scheme Authority (NAPSA) and the Workers Compensation Fund Control Board (WCFCB).
If left uncharged, lots of people would slip into destitution and poverty will no doubt be a daily experience. It is for this reason that he tasked the boards to find lasting solutions t6o the problem.
With the rebasing of the Kwacha at the dawn of 2013, lots of pensioners who had been getting peanuts would get little Kwachas as pension.
Well, there is no doubt; the social security system in Zambia, coupled with bad laws, needs an overhaul to make it relevant to the ever evolving social needs.
The social security is predominantly of a social insurance model limited to the provision of protection against loss or reduction of income resulting from retirement, disability and survivorship.
This coverage however, is limited to the formal sector. There are basically four statutory schemes and these are the National Pension Scheme Authority (NAPSA), Local Authorities Superannuation Fund, Public Service Pension Fund and the Workers Compensation Fund Control Board (WCFCB), Further there are also a number of occupational pension schemes.
The contributions in these schemes is basically from both the employer and the employee, however the Workers Compensation Fund Control Board contribution is entirely from the employer
For a long time, the sector has been a subject of neglect by previous governments. Nothing has been done to improve it. It is clear that it was never a priority, which is why acts like WCFCB Act No. 10 of 1999, remains unchanged until it is subjected to Parliament approval.
Pension benefits, have not moved with times and changing inflation levels in the country. While the cost and standard of living in Zambia is high, pension benefits have remained static much to the disadvantage of the beneficiaries much of whom have slipped into poverty and destitution.
The state of affairs is contradictory to the very purpose; social security is in existence, which is to alleviate poverty and destitution among beneficiaries.
The Patriotic Government (PF) is pretty aware of the current social security system dilemma in the country and is showing lots of political will to get the job done.
These weaknesses, as Mr Shamenda puts it, have resulted in the destitution of several beneficiaries and general worker populace due, to among other things, delayed benefit packages, poor public perception, alleged corrupt practices and poor governance practices.
Thus, there is need for a comprehensive reform of the sector in areas like payment of arrears to pensioners, revision of the pension benefits, decentralised system of benefits payments and reduction of administrative costs to the barest minimum.
Others areas that need lots of attention, in the sector are the adoption of service charters and prevention of all forms of corruption.
Prudent and profitable investment is key in revamping the sector.
Making social security accessible and available will require a lot of hardwork.
The idea of pensioners waiting a long time to get what is due to them should be a thing of the past.
Currently, proposed amendments to NAPSA and WCFCB acts have been made pending Parliament's approval.
The most common type of programme is for old-age, disability, and survivors'pensions, followed by programmes for benefits for work injuries and occupational diseases, sickness and maternity, family allowances and unemployment.
Now, the trouble with Zambia's social security system is that there is no national policy to give guidelines on how the whole system should be operated.
Zambia Federation of Employers (ZFE) executive director Harringston Chibanda said a national social security policy, would help in addressing some of the challenges currently being faced.
For example, in addition to its flaws, the current system does not cater for those in the informal sector.
"All the schemes we have only cater for those in the formal sector. What about those in the informal sector?" he asked.
In the case of WCFCB, social security has a disability "insurance" aspect and a death benefit for the minor children and widow(er).
And social security is not welfare or remotely related to the concept of welfare. In fact social security is the direct opposite of welfare.
It is the system which allows even the lowest paid people to have some retirement income after clocking retirement age.
It is a central worry of many Zambian not to have enough money to live on comfortably in old age.
Most of these people rely almost totally on social security payments as their only formal means of support.
According to the International Social Security Association (ISSA), all countries must develop their social security systems according to their own socio-economic needs and circumstances. In the case of Zambia,
Throughout its history, social security has never stopped adapting, However, today, after more than a century of existence, the challenge remains one of making the right to 'social security for all' a reality. In Zambia, a lot needs to be done. No amendment have been made in a long time, despite fluctuating inflation levels over the years.
The first social security programmes based on compulsory insurance were established in Europe in the late-19th century.
It was during the 20th century, however, that national social security programmes developed more widely around the globe, not least as a result of decolonisation and the institution of new independent states after World War Two.
The development of social security has also been supported by various international conventions and instruments, and the recognition of social security as a basic human right was enshrined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
In a few countries, for example, Germany and Brazil, social security is a right guaranteed by the Constitution.
The social security problems in Zambia also stem from the fact that a number of institutions (employers) have defaulted in terms of remitting funds to social security schemes, making it hard for those schemes to effectively execute their functions as provided by the law.
It is something that ZCTU president Leonard Hikaumba is angry about.
Some employers have been defaulting as a result disadvantaging those who are supposed to benefit from such.
"You get a situation where someone retires but they can't access pension, because their employer has not been remitting funds. It's not right," he said.
Mr Hikaumba also believes in the idea of extending the social security to the informal sector, saying this would be a great relief for those in the informal sector.
The idea of extension of social security to the informal sector is also being propagated by the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
The informal sector accounts for 72 per cent of employment in sub-Saharan Africa. In Zambia, it accounts for 80 per cent, which is why it should be included. If anything, the informal sector can contribute greatly to schemes.
A society that provides security for its citizens protects them not only from war and disease, but also from the insecurities related to making a living through work.
Social security systems provide for basic income in cases of unemployment, illness and injury, old age and retirement, invalidity, family responsibilities such as pregnancy and childcare, and loss of the family breadwinner.
Such benefits are important not only for individual workers and their families but also for their communities as a whole.
By providing health care, income security and social services, social security enhances productivity and contributes to the dignity and full realisation of the individual.
This is crucial as doing so would give meaning to a system, which for many years, has been beset by numerous adequacies and problems, almost becoming dysfunctional in some sense.
Let us make social security work in Zambia for the good of all.