Pain as family chases mother’s retirement benefits 12 years on

When Pascalia Wasike, a nurse at Navakholo sub-district hospital in Kakamega County, died in 2007, her family was hopeful that her pension – her main investment – would keep her two daughters, then ages 14 and 16, in school in her absence.

Little did they know that 12 years down the line they would still be engaged in a goose chase.

Initially, the family had to rely on the father’s modest pension to scrape through, which was not enough to cater for all their needs, but he died a year later after starting the process of claiming their mother’s pension as her nominated beneficiary.

We are not badly off, but it’s our right because it’s our mother’s money. She worked for it, earned it and saved for herself and the family.

Most people (57 percent) appoint their spouses as pension beneficiaries, according to a study by Enwealth Financial Services Limited, showing the desire among Kenyans to ensure their families are taken care of even after they die.

Ideally, a member of a pension scheme should immediately begin enjoying benefits once they reach the retirement age of 60. If, unfortunately, one dies, those rights are passed on to the nominated beneficiaries.

Well, this is not the case for many beneficiaries, who after being handed such rights have to literally pursue public pension schemes to hand them their benefactor’s savings. These savings are, in many families, the only cushion from poverty-inflicted suffering if the breadwinner retires or dies, considering the high national dependency ratio which stands at 82 percent. This refers to the share of dependents aged 0-14 and over 65 compared to the working-age population. The higher the figure, the greater the economic burden for the productive population (15-64 years).

About one in six households receives pension savings as a regular income, averaging Sh2,106 monthly, according to the Kenya Integrated Household Budget Survey 2015/16.

Ms Dolphine Emali, Pascalia’s firstborn daughter who has been pursuing her pension benefits on behalf of the family, says the process has been erratic, without a proper map and checklist informing her of the steps and requirements.

She recounts that they were advised to go to Kakamega for clarifications on any matter relating to her mother’s pension, but later advised to return to Nairobi, where her mother worked when she joined the scheme.

And the follow-up has become even more tedious. So far she has spent not less than Sh50,000 in travel and legal costs alone. “One thing is, when you look at the payslip, it says NSSF, so you know the money is there. So you get there and provide the personal number and death certificate. They say OK, we’ll find your file, come back after sometime,” she says. “You come back, they want another thing - ‘Can you get a letter from the chief stating that you’re the beneficiary’ - now that my dad had died. You get the document and go back. There’s always a new request.”

Following the back and forth, they were not surprised to find their mother’s name missing when they showed up at the Huduma Centre for the pensioners’ headcount earlier this year. They were directed to the Ministry of Health to present their case, which then instructed them to go to the pensions department at the same ministry, only to be asked to file the documents afresh, including getting letters from the chief.

“We are not badly off, but it’s our right because it’s our mother’s money. She worked for it, earned it and saved for herself and the family. But I can’t imagine how the situation is for those going through the same but who need the money to survive,” she tells NationNewsplex.

In January this year, the government announced that it was doing a headcount of government pensioners, with the goal of smoking out ghost retirees who could be getting millions of shillings monthly. The move comes at a time when the public pension bill is set to cross the Sh100 billion mark in the financial year 2019/2020, three times higher than seven years ago in 2013/2014 (Sh35.4 billion) and four percent of the projected budget.

But even as the government moves in to protect the pension kitty from potential fraudsters, many deserving retirees and their beneficiaries – the rightful owners – are also finding it difficult to access their savings.

A social media search by Newsplex presented a similar case of two retired nurses from Othaya in Nyeri County, who, two years on, were yet to get their pension benefits, with Kenyans online expressing anger and sharing their own experiences.

But even as these problems persist, the government’s Pensions Management Information System, has not been short of management issues. A 2015 Auditor-General’s report on the system revealed frail controls that could cost legitimate pensioners their savings. Some of the findings were 69,715 pensioners with dummy ID numbers or personal numbers, 601 pension files processed without names, and missing data for the period before 2009.

About 4,477 retirees in the system were aged over 70 years but did not submit life certificates every six months as required by the pension policy, suggesting the risk that money was paid to deceased people.

“When my mother died, I got to see her payslip, and on seeing her modest salary versus her heavy workload, it is unfortunate to see that people actually spend a big chunk of their lives not just saving for later, but also giving their service to the community, and then later when they are not alive their families cannot benefit from that,” says Dolphine.