Past estimates have put wastage of budgetary resources at a mind-boggling one-third of the total. That means even as Treasury secretaries over the years struggled to balance budgets totalling trillions, much of the exercise was unnecessary fantasy. We could have done better by sealing loopholes that made mockery of going out to collect hundreds of billions only lose it.
Unsurprisingly, it has now emerged that one of the channels through which cash is being lost is the pension payments. According to the government, family members are collecting cash for their long dead kin in a serious indictment of the Pensions Department and the whole government.
One of the reasons why this is happening is because electronic payments including mobile money and ATMs have reduced human contact in the process. Unlike in the past when people had to turn up physically armed with a national identity card, today someone with access to a bank account can withdraw cash remotely.
Of course there is also the human factor of collusion within the bureaucracy and families.
To stem loss of taxpayers’ cash, the Treasury has now ordered physical verification from next month. Recipients now have to turn up and pick the cash. While this is not the ideal situation given that it will entail incurring more costs on the part of the pensioners, it is absolutely necessary to streamline the process. Hopefully, bureaucrats will not take this chance to pile woes on the old citizens already suffering from years of erosion of earnings.
However, even as we laud the government for this timely move, we have to swiftly point out that the current situation exposes a serious lapse in the system. For instance, how come the death registration does not reflect in government pension and probably salary system. For the longest time, it has been a practice that any death is registered with the provincial administration. \
How is this information used by the government—other than for succession purpose—if dead people can still get paid from public coffers? Are there other ways that the details of the dead are being used to steal from the government?
It is our hope that the new centralised identification number will also address the issue of the dead. Otherwise ghost pensioners and workers must be rooted out quickly.