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The National Social Security Fund (NSSF) is for the first time set to undertake a massive audit of its paper-based beneficiaries' database for verification purposes.

The move is aimed at fast-tracking pension payouts for thousands of retirees and their beneficiaries.

The State pensions agency has invited fingerprint experts to help it digitise and audit its huge trove of paper files gathered over decades and lying in its offices.

The NSSF says those hired will help with cleaning up the data of registered NSSF members for the purposes of faster benefits processing.

NSSF, which has been on the spot for delaying the payment of retirees' life savings sparking massive complaints from pensioners, reckons that the latest move will also help it enhance transparency.

"The National Social Security Fund (NSSF) is seeking to engage qualified fingerprint technicians on a temporary basis for a data cleaning project that will take six months," said the NSSF in internal documents.

"The job will entail positive identification of members/beneficiaries to initiate benefit processing and payment."

NSSF's pension payroll has been soaring in recent years on the back of a fast-ageing public service, piling pressure on taxpayers amid delays in implementing reforms in the past.

Pension and gratuity payouts grew 32 per cent to Sh145.6 billion in the fiscal year that ended June compared with Sh110.3 billion in a similar period a year earlier.

NSSF announced four years ago that it would no longer accept physical or manual returns for employee statutory contributions.

It also warned at the time that thousands of retirees are suffering while trying to claim their pension from the NSSF due to failure by their employers to list their names while remitting deductions.

According to NSSF, the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) was at the time one of the top culprits that have been sending money to NSSF accounts without the names of the contributors and the amounts they are deducted condemning many retired teachers to an agonising wait for their pension dues. 

This made it difficult for the members to claim their benefits, said NSSF.

The National Treasury earlier said it will roll out, a much-awaited re-engineered pension management system to boost pension management and processing.

“The system will offer an end-to-end Enterprise Resource Planning solution in the management and processing of pension benefits," said Treasury earlier.

The Treasury said at pensioners and dependents had crossed 300,000 in December 2021, and that the number was expected to continue growing.

Public servants, unlike workers in the private sector, were not contributing to their pension until January 2021. Their retirement benefits are paid straight from government revenue, largely taxes.

The Treasury rolled out a contributory pension scheme in January 2021 where public service workers contributed two per cent of their gross pay towards retirement savings in 2021, rising to five per cent in 2022 and 7.5 per cent thereafter.

The government contributes 15 per cent of the gross pay.

Under the Public Service Superannuation Scheme (PSSS), workers who resign from public service are entitled to pension benefits after five years with no age restrictions.

This is unlike the previous scheme where it took 10 years from the time a worker resigned from the government to get benefits or on the attainment of the age of 50.

Civil servants are free to increase their contributions to a rate above 7.5 per cent, but the government share remains intact.

The rollout of the contributory retirement plan, after a delay of more than eight years since the Public Service Superannuation Scheme Act became law, is expected to ease pressure on taxpayers. - Brian Ngugi, The Standard

 

DAR ES SALAAM, Jan. 27 (Xinhua) -- Tanzanian police said on Friday they seized 17.68 kilograms of gold and six elephant tusks weighing 39.34 kilograms in Tanzania's northern region Mara bordering Kenya.

Geofrey Sarakikya, the Tarime-Rorya regional police commander, said the gold and elephant tusks were seized in a special crackdown conducted between Dec. 1, 2022, and Jan. 26, 2023.

Sarakikya told a news conference that scores of suspects have been arrested in connection with the impounded gold and elephant tusks.

He said during the operation, police in collaboration with other security agencies destroyed one hectare of cannabis and arrested four suspects in connection with growing the cannabis illegally.

Sarakikya urged members of the public to continue cooperating with the law enforcers in unearthing criminal acts. - Xinhua

 

Uganda’s engagement with China has often seen officials from Kampala troop to Beijing for loans, resulting in a rising debt situation with the Asian giant over the last decade.

Ugandan projects whose funding has been negotiated with the Exim Bank include $2.2 billion for the SGR, $1.44 billion for the 600MW Karuma hydroelectric dam, $482 million for 183MW Isimba power dam, $350 million for the 51km Kampala-Entebbe Expressway and $200 million for Entebbe International Airport expansion.

Of these, only the SGR loan has not been disbursed, making Uganda one of the African “friends” hooked on Beijing’s loans after a borrowing binge.

Kenya has also been flagged after piling debt beyond its cap.

In 2021, China’s ambassador to Uganda Zhang Lizhong said his country was rethinking its infrastructure financing policy in Africa and scaling back its support to big projects in order to fund more on social development projects like water supply.

In the East Africa region, Beijing’s scaling back on big-ticket project funding has created the notion that the Chinese are losing to European players such as Turkey’s Yapi Markezi, who are building Tanzania’s SGR, and now, Uganda’s.

Sources close to the SGR project in Uganda say that President Museveni’s about-turn from the Chinese to other financiers came in 2021 after it emerged that the country could have mortgaged the Entebbe International Airport over a $200 million loan from China.

Works and Transport Minister Gen Katumba Wamala also told Parliament that Uganda was treading carefully with China after detecting danger in Beijing’s “indecent proposal” that the SGR $2.2 billion loan be paid using oil money.

“The financier, Exim Bank of China, was concerned about the repayment of the loan. We told them that the government will be the one to pay the loan, you do not decide where the payment of the loan will come from,” Gen Katumba told Parliament in 2021.

Sources say that as the waiting game with Exim Bank went on, President Museveni vowed to review the SGR plan during the Covid-19 pandemic, telling his Cabinet that, unlike trucks, an effective railway transport system would have reduced the level of exposure to the virus in Uganda.

In the meantime, as the President sought alternatives to resuscitate the SGR project, his government sourced new loans to rehabilitate all the sections of the old metre gauge railway in efforts to see it haul at least 60,000 of cargo per month.

Malaba turnabout

The borrowing includes a $307 million sought from the African Development Bank (AfDB) in 2022, in addition to a €301.11 million ($325 million) loan from AfDB and €25.9 million ($28 million) from the Corporate Internationalisation Fund of Spain that Parliament approved in May 2021, to refurbish the line from Malaba to Kampala.

But transport experts say that even fully rehabilitated, the MGR still has inherent technical limitations that cannot enable it to carry more than 3.6 million tonnes per annum.

Yet cargo volumes between Malaba and Kampala are growing, currently standing at 18 million tonnes, set to reach 20 million tonnes in 2025 and 25 million tonnes in 2030, says Dr Richard Sendi, the SGR project head of planning and strategy.

Dr Sendi says that these cargo volumes landing at Malaba and growing each year give Kenya’s SGR viability if it links with Uganda’s, explaining why the new government in Nairobi has realised that there is no option to building the line up to Malaba.

“They are also looking for alternative financing,” he said.

With two SGR trains arriving at Naivasha daily, each carrying 56 containers, the numbers will continue to grow and overwhelm Kenya’s metre gauge railway that picks up the cargo via the link at Longonot, Uganda officials are optimistic that the country’s project has a lifeline.

Meanwhile, Tanzania seeing a slowdown of the Northern Corridor project, went on a fundraising spree to extent its SGR to the Great Lakes.

Their 1,637km line is being built in phases by contractors from Turkey and China. The first phase from Dar es Salaam to Morogoro (300km) is expected to start operating soon after successful test runs. - JULIUS BARIGABA, The EastAfrican

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