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Struggling in life, elderly wait for unmet pension promise

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THUNGA—We hope the authorities respond

A resident of the low-lying but densely populated area of Masasa in Mzuzu City, McPherson Gondwe’s hope that the government’s pledge to provide K15,000 monthly allowance to the elderly is quickly fading.

Gondwe, a sexagenarian and a pastor at a local Church of Nazarene, believed that once the government was ushered into power, the monthly stipend would be prioritised as promised.

Little did he know that days would turn to months, months to years. He could die waiting.

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“Many more are dying, many more that voted for them. We thought we would enjoy the fruits of our vote. Perhaps the government does not know; we voted for them because the promises were so appealing to us especially the allowance for the elderly,” he says.

His counterpart Dennis Zgambo, 79, of the same location, Masasa, also says the delay is worrisome.

“My worry is that they are taking their time to implement the programme. We were promised that they will give us pension once we usher them into the government but when we ask them now, they simply they will respond to us. Until when?” he asks.

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Zgambo wonders why issues of the elderly are treated with a lackadaisical approach when everyone knows that at some point they will grow old and will need support.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), over the next three decades, the number of older persons worldwide is projected to more than double, reaching more than 1.5 billion persons in 2050.

It says there is need to not just recognize but also celebrate the voices and experiences of all older persons – including older women – and showcase their resilience and contributions to society.

“We must respect, protect and fulfill older persons’ human rights, and also appreciate their contributions to sustainable development,” it says.

The pension pledge was meant to celebrate the life of the elderly in Malawi.

Goodwell Thunga from the Malawi Network for Older Persons (Manepo) says the old age pension scheme is a guaranteed way of providing income security to the elderly.

“This is something that was publicly promised to the older persons and they are justified to demand what was promised to them. We really hope the authorities will take time to respond to them.

“But as an advocate, we shall continue engaging the Ministry of Justice. There has been some progress so far. I remember there was a feasibility study that was done previously on the practicality of this kind of a scheme and it really showed that it’s possible. The plan was to start it as a pilot and then upscale later on but we heard funds are not permitting,” he says.

The elderly underlined their questions on Friday when Malawians joined the rest of the world in commemorating the International Day of the Older persons.

Agness Nkusa Nkhoma, Deputy Minister of Gender, Children and Community Development under which social welfare services fall, says government has already embarked on the equivalent of older persons pension scheme through the social cash transfer interventions.

“The Tonse government is keeping its promise to Malawians, especially the elderly. We have social cash transfer programmes such as Mtukula Pakhomo that the elderly are benefitting from,” she says.

The senior citizens’ call for action also comes at a time when Older Persons Bill aimed at providing security net to the elderly people is gathering dust at the Ministry of Justice trays, two years after it was sent there, according to activists.

However, spokesperson in the Ministry of Justice Pirirani Masanjala says they received the draft bill this year from the Ministry of Gender and not in 2019 as it is being reported.

“I should also clear out here that they did not send a draft bill but rather instructions that we should draft the bill. Our records show that we received those instructions early this year,” he says.

Masanjala says ordinarily, if the processing of any bill is to move faster, it depends on the respective ministry, in this case the gender ministry. He, thus, could not say how long it would take the Ministry of Justice to finalise the drafting the bill.

Executive Director for Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) Michael Kaiyatsa says the elderly continue to suffer violence and injustices in the country.

“We have documented over 70 cases of violence against the elderly but none is moving in the courts. We appreciate that most time when an elderly person is killed our police rush and some perpetrators are arrested. But after they are given bail, the case seemingly ends there. This has to change,” he says.

In Malawi older persons continue to face harassment and killings due to among other factors witchcraft allegations. This is despite the fact that the Witchcraft Act of 1911 does not recognize its existence.

Writing for United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Asghar Zaidi, a professor of International Social Policy at the University of Southampton, says social policy efforts are required in countries worldwide to improve well-being for older people, and make welfare provision more sustainable.

He says essential distinction has to be made between policies suitable for the current generations of the elderly, and policies required for future generations.

“The elderly today need protection since they are restricted in their opportunities. The future generations of the elderly will need more opportunities for employment during their working lives, savings and better mechanisms to plan for old age,” Zaidi says.

KEY FACTS

  • In 2050, 80 percent of older people will be living in low- and middle-income countries.
  • The pace of population ageing is much faster than in the past. In 2020, the number of people aged 60 years and older outnumbered children younger than 5 years.
  • Between 2015 and 2050, the proportion of the world’s population over 60 years will nearly double from 12 percent to 22 percent
  • Common health conditions associated with ageing include hearing loss, cataracts and refractive errors, back and neck pain and osteoarthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, depression and dementia. As people age, they are more likely to experience several conditions at the same time.—World Health Organization
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