Standard Bank - BOL to Wallet

Unraveling the veil: Assessing Public Understanding of Pension Matters

Teachers in rural areas like him have little knowledge on pension matters. Teachers in rural areas like him have little knowledge on pension matters.

Last October, on an easy Saturday evening, I found myself in the newsroom, diligently producing the next day’s morning news bulletin.
The radio hummed in the background, its volume set just right—audible but not distracting from my task at hand.

Amidst the hustle, I tuned in to the familiar strains of the Chingalawa program.

“Chingalawa,” is a term literally translating to a water vessel. The program begins with the sound of a ship about to dock, its horn resonating with excitement as it reaches the upbeat people ashore.

As soon as the sigtune fades, the program host, Emmanuel Maliro, introduces his guest: Philip Waluza, the Corporate Sales Manager at Old Mutual Malawi.

Their topic of discussion? The Beneficiary Nomination Form—a crucial document that holds the key to ensuring that individuals’ wishes are honored when it comes to distributing death benefits.

Said Waluza: “This form is used to disburse member benefits. These are members that are on pension scheme, in an event of their death, that document is used to disburse their total accumulated credit and a minimum of their death benefits.

“The accumulated credit is coming from the 5%, 10% pension contributions. Death benefit is an insurance where the act states clearly that, that a minimum that can be payable is an annual salary, so when you combine the two, in an event of the death of a member, a nomination form is used to distribute those benefits.”

That information caught my attention. It was my first time hearing about it. The more Waluza continued to explain, the more I delved deep into the program.

Waluza continued: “It is very important for us to note, we need to update the nomination for at least once a year or as and when. As and when means, if something happens in your life. Assuming by the time you were not married, now you have got children. You need to update the form to include those children, or someone who was on the form is no more, so you need to update it.

“In the old pensions act the nomination form could be amended. In an event of death of a member, where they did not include someone on the form. For example, the person was married but they did not include one of their children on the form for whatever reason, the old pensions act was giving trustees of the pension scheme powers to add, to amend the nomination form where there was evidence.

“The new pensions act of 2023 clearly states that, no one can amend the nomination form. Whatever the owner put on the nomination form remains final,” Waluza explained.

Other than that, the 2023 pensions act also tackles the issue of organizations being mandated to comply with remitting pension contributions for their employees. Failure to do that could result in a fine of at least 150 million kwacha.

It also tackles the issue of people accessing their pension funds five years prior to retirement, and that those who lose their jobs can access their pension funds after 3 months, a reduction from 6 months.

In the program, he continued to explain that with a new system in place, benefits are no longer transferred to the accountant general’s office to distribute to individuals (beneficiaries).

That made me to recall a scenario that happened at Capital Hill in January: a young lady held vigils at the accountant general's office after growing frustrated with the bureaucracy and the delays to get death benefits.
The young lady was forced out of school, and her siblings were also on the verge of following that path.

Then, a bothersome thought popped up: if a journalist whom the masses we serve hold in high regard and assume that we know everything, was hearing about the nomination forms for the first time, how about the people in rural areas?

The next day, I assigned two reporters to find out. One is from Thyolo, and the other is from Machinga. The instruction was that they should talk to teachers whom people in communities or rural areas have much respect for.

In Thyolo, our reporter Luka Beston engaged Victor Mpuruma, a teacher at Nachipere Primary School. Mpuruma joined the civil service in 2011, and he said he filled out his nomination once in 2017.

Telling our reporter, Mpuruma said: “I remember it was in 2017 that I filled out some forms. But to be honest with you, that was the only time. I did not know that we needed to update it. I fail to get a clear understanding of pensions. I find it to be complicated, and in our area, we don’t get that information. We don’t have much information about it.”

In Machinga, our reporter Eamon Piringu talked to Majawa Ndoya, headmaster at Nampeya Primary School. Ndoya joined the teaching service in 2000 as a temporary teacher, before he later joined as a full government employee. For him too, he said he does not have a clear understanding of pension.

“There is no one who has ever come to our community to explain more about it. All we see is that, after long service in government, one retires, gets his pension, and is paid every 15th of the month. I also heard on the radio that there is now a contributory pension scheme. But I don’t know how that is calculated.

“There is no one who has ever come to the communities with information about pensions. It appears they rely much on the radio, but it is difficult for people like us to fully understand complex matters through the radio,” Ndoya said.

It is estimated that Malawi has close to 200 000 people employed in government, and teachers are the majority.

Teachers Union of Malawi Secretary General Charles Kumchenga says that there is a great need to sensitize all the teachers and other civil servants in the country.

“It is not necessary to do the sensitization through the radios or any other platforms where people will not have access to ask questions to get a clear understanding. It is important that the teachers be reached out while they are still healthy and energetic,” Kumchenga said.

An expert in human resources and a retired civil servant, Austin Gondwe concurs with Kumchenga on the need for reaching out to the workers in remote districts.

He says the problem stems from the fact that most district human resource officers do not take the task of sensitizing the workers about their pension as their primary mandate; as such, most workers start to grow interested and start scampering for information about pensions when they have already retired.

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Last modified on Saturday, 30/03/2024

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