Editorial: Mr former President, we disagree with you sir!
Former President Mahama, who is also the flagbearer of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), during his recent ‘digital conversation’ with the Ghanaian public, called on the Social Society and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT) to come in and cushion contributors to the scheme in this difficult Coronavirus (Covid-19) time.
“Social security contributions are essentially an insurance scheme made, not just for pensions in old age before we die. They are also made to help contributors in times of adversities such as this. Not all will come out and queue for food, but, as has been done in other countries like St. Lucia, I think a token payment to all contributors of a certain token sum over three months would have afforded many the assurance of feeding their families during these abnormal times,” Mr Mahama said.
But SSNIT disagrees with the suggestion from the former President.
In a statement issued in Accra in reaction to Mr Mahama’s call, SSNIT argued that what the NDC flagbearer is saying does not exist in law, and that to do so will constitute an illegality and a contravention of the provisions of the National Pensions Act, 2008, Act 766. “The Trust is a creature of law emanating from the National Pensions Act, 2008, Act 766, which governs the administration of SSNIT and all other pension schemes in the country,” it said.
According to SSNIT, the only circumstances under which it can make payments are Old Age Pension, Invalidity Pension when a worker becomes permanently incapacitated, Old Age Lump Sum Benefit, which is a refund of contributions with interest, and the Survivors’ Lump Sum Benefit, which is made to nominated dependants of a deceased contributor.
According to the Trust, it is currently paying GH¢213 million in monthly pensions to the 213,173 pensioners on its payroll, and it is committed to that.
It is an undeniable fact that the Coronavirus pandemic has thrown our national economy and that of individuals out of gear. Already, the World Bank is predicting that remittances to low and middle-income countries (LMICs) will fall by 19.7 percent to $445 billion, representing a loss of a crucial financing lifeline for many vulnerable households.
According to the Bretton Woods Institution, remittances to low and middle-income countries in 2019 stood at a whopping $554 billion. This means these LMICs, of which Ghana is part, are going to lose a record $109 billion this year because of the Coronavirus. It is important to note that Ghana depends hugely on remittances from her citizens abroad to support the economy.
But with this huge decline, one can imagine what is going to happen, since Ghanaians abroad will no more have the financial wherewithal to send the American bucks back home to take of their families.
With this challenge staring Ghanaians in the face, one must appreciate where Mr Mahama is coming from. Why should huge sums of money be lying in the vaults of SSNIT when contributors are suffering and could even die before their retiring age? But this compelling reason notwithstanding, laws must also be respected.
According to SSNIT, the laws establishing the Trust do not allow it to make such a social intervention as Mr Mahama is prescribing. This is a cogent argument because should the current managers of the Trust breach the law and come out with the social intervention, such behaviour would amount to causing financial loss to the state.
The Chronicle does not think, Mr Mahama, as a former head of state, would be happy that SSNIT breaches the law.
The National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) has come under heavy public criticism in the recent days for donating GH¢250,000 to the Covid-19 Fund. Though one would have argued that the NHIA is supporting the fight against the deadly Coronavirus, the argument is that the health insurance scheme does not generate money to warrant such a donation.
Do we want SSNIT to also follow suit by coming out with social intervention programme, which is contrary to the law establishing it, because we want to fight the Covid-19? Certainly, we do not think so, because it is the same people who are going to benefit that will rise up against the management of SSNIT for misusing their funds. These are the reasons why we think former President Mahama’s suggestion, though well intended, should not be implemented.
Well-meaning Ghanaians, including Mr Mahama himself, have since the outbreak of the disease in Ghana been donating food and medical equipment worth thousands of Ghana Cedis to vulnerable people in our society and our health officials.
The Chronicle encourages them to continue with their humanitarian gestures, instead of dipping our hands into SSNIT funds that could cause problems in future.