ELISHA Mkinga is wondering if the new found natural gas wealth will help bring down poverty among the country's over two million retirees currently not covered by any social security system available.
"How will this group of over two million retirees who reside in rural areas without any pension cover benefit from the gas economy?"
Mzee Mkinga asked during an Economic and Social Research Foundation (ESRF)'s annual national conference, whose theme was, 'Unleashing Growth Potentials in Tanzania: Making Natural Gas Guarantee Sustainable Development.'
Mzee Mkinga who identified himself as a civil society representative, was speaking on behalf of a group which has been neglected by the government for many years after serving this country honestly like farmers, fishermen or petty traders.
Last May during annual social security week organised by Social Security Regulatory Authority (SSRA), President Jakaya Kikwete ordered Labour and Employment Minister, Gaudensia Kabaka to start making plans for the government to pay all retirees in the country monthly pension.
"But be careful because we don't want to start something which we cannot sustain," President Kikwete warned. But with the coming of a gas economy backed so far by 43 trillion cubic feet of confirmed natural gas reserves with an estimated value of over 400bn US dollars and perhaps more coming, Mr Kikwete's thinking may soon meet expectations of mzee Mkinga who by his physical looks is above the retirement age.
Public Sector Pension Fund (PSPF) which is perhaps the youngest social security fund in the country having been born in 1999, has a different approach to solving this group of important but neglected people in the country.
PSPF newly appointed Director General, Adam Mayingu said in Dar es Salaam last week that the fund has introduced a supplementary scheme which targets people mainly doing their business in the informal sector. "Anyone can now join PSPF through our supplementary scheme which also allows Tanzanians working abroad to become members," Mr Mayingu said.
Established as a public sector employees social security scheme, PSPF can now accommodate people from all walks of life, thanks to the 2008 Social Security Regulatory Act of 2008 as amended in 2010. For as little as a monthly contribution of 10,000/-, anyone including farmers, fishermen, traders, footballers, actors and actresses of the rapidly flourishing local film industry.
"The local film industry and footballers remain uncovered by social security schemes in this country despite their huge potential," said Martin Malera, an editor with Kiswahili tabloid, Tanzania Daima. According to SSRA Director General, Iren Isaka only close to two million people who are in the formal sector are covered by statutory social security schemes available.
"The existing funds need to reach out and devise new scheme to include more people especially from the informal sector who are not covered by any social security scheme hence remain vulnerable after retirement," Ms Isaka said recently while warning fund managers against employing unfair practices in recruiting new members.
With over 44 million people of whom an estimated 20 million are engaged in some kind of income generating activity in the country, it is clear that having less than two million people covered by social security scheme is unacceptable.
PSPF which started with 190,000 public workers adopted from the public sector has increased its membership to over 390,000 currently. Supplementary scheme members will be entitled to other benefits such as education, entrepreneurship, death and illness payments prior to their pension payment upon retirement.
"PSPF started collecting membership contributions in 1999 but we absolved civil servants who have been working prior to 1999 whose pension benefits were not collected by us," Mayingu told senior journalists and editors during the meeting which he hosted at Golden Jubilee Towers.
Last April Controller and Auditor General, Ludovick Utouh said the government owes PSPF some 6.5trn/- in backlog contributions made by public workers prior to the Fund's formation.
Mr Utouh said although the Fund was not in danger of collapsing, it's important that Treasury settles the debt to enable healthy implementation of its mandate.
But Mayingu yesterday assured members of the Fund that its assets and liquidity are much stronger than its competitors. According to the latest PSPF annual report, it's net assets has increased from 36bn/- in 1999 to over 1.2trn/- currently.
"We are currently paying pension to over 43,000 members plus another similar number of beneficiaries of members who have died," Mayingu pointed out. Last May, President Jakaya Kikwete promised to start repaying the PSPF by allocating 50bn/- this fiscal year.
Mr Kikwete who was speaking during a pensions fund week, dismissed allegations that PSPF and Local Authorities Pension Fund which his government owes trillions of shillings in debts, were on the brink of collapse.
"It's not true that PSP's finances are in a poor state to risk bankruptcy although the government owes the Fund money which will be repaid," he assured the public.
President Kikwete also directed Labour and Employment Minister, Gaudensia Kabaka to start working on a national pension scheme which will pay all retired citizens monthly pension regardless of their social security status upon retirement.