Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Afghanistan: Retirees Condemn Pension Delays

Excessive red tape and corruption have led to a huge backlog.
By Mina Habib

Kabir, 70, spends his days in Kabul’s finance ministry trying to access an entire year of pension payments that he is owed.

The former officer at the National Directorate of Security (NDS) said, “I worked for 40 years to protect the stability and security of my country but now, when I am old and weak, my rights are ignored.

“For the last seven months I’ve been wandering the corridors of the finance ministry hoping to make progress.

“But instead I’m mistreated and humiliated. Officials just swear at me and tell me to leave their office. Every day there are further delays.”

Former civil servants are angry at government delays over pension payments, claiming that excessive red tape, corruption and a lack of transparency have lead to months of delays.

IWPR spoke to numerous retirees who complained that the ongoing battle to obtain their money had left them feeling depressed and humiliated. Some claimed that government departments were now demanding bribes to guarantee pension payments were issued.

Figures from the ministry of labour, social affairs, martyrs and the disabled show there are currently some 145,000 former civil servants in Afghanistan who are entitled to receive a pension.

Official retirement age for the bureaucrats is 65 and the maximum time employees are allowed to work in government is 40 years.

After retirement, each former employees draws a monthly pension for the rest of their lives. Once they die, the same pension is transferred to their wife or husband, and when they die the money is given to the couple’s children up until they reach the age of 18.

Abdul Fatah Eshrat Ahmadzai, spokesman for the ministry of labour, social affairs, martyrs and the disabled, accepted that there were issues surrounding the processing of pensions.

He said measures were being taken to overcome the challenges, and that the government had delegated a task force to reduce delays.

He also highlighted steps the ministry had taken to set up bank accounts for its retired workers, allowing pensions to be paid direct into their accounts.

And he added that new biometric security measures were set to clamp down on so-called “ghost civil servants” – fake identities created by fraudsters hoping to collect pensions that had not been earned.

Ahmadzai said, “We’ve already paid last year’s pensions in full and 75 per cent of civil servant pensions for this year. The remainder will be paid in the near future.

“We’ve worked overtime to get this done and to address any issues we’ve been made aware of. Next year there should be no problems because we’ve created a much better system. Pensioners should be pleased.”

Despite his reassurance, many former civil servants remain sceptical.

Hashemi, a legal affairs analyst and retired academic, claimed he had not received his pension for the last two years.

“The process is inefficient and the government has failed to find a solution,” he said.

“Talk is cheap but officials need to put their promises into practice. Failure to pay these pensions on time is breaking the law so the government is breaking its own rules.”

Wahid, another retired civil servant, said, “My brother was a police officer who was killed in the line of duty. But for the last ten months I’ve been unable to get access to his pension.

“I’ve travelled from my home in Takhar to Kabul and then back to Takhar all this time. I’ve spent half my own pension on hotels.”

“Each department is causing a great deal of distress to those seeking their pension payments,” agreed Hasibullah, who used to work at the ministry of agriculture, irrigation and livestock.

The 65-year-old said that there was “no doubt some retired civil servants were being treated unfairly”.

“People have to wait months and have to pay bribes in order to get anywhere,” he continued. “I had to pay bribes myself.”

When IWPR put details of these individual cases to the ministry of labour, social affairs, martyrs and the disabled, officials blamed the delays on the ministry of finance.

Ahmadzai said, “The [finance] ministry doesn’t cooperate with us – it’s ignoring its responsibilities.”

However, a senior official from the finance ministry described the allegations as baseless.

Mohammad Aqa Kohistani, a deputy minister, claimed a major issue was the ministry of labour’s failure to provide an accurate figure for the number of retired workers.

He said, “We’ve still paid the bulk of pension payments to the ministry of labour, social affairs, martyrs and the disabled. Only 14 million US dollars is still due and that will be paid soon.

“Likewise, we’ve paid the bulk of military pensions payments. The process is a little time-consuming but the full amount will be provided in the near future. The problem is that everyone blames everybody else.”

Ramazan Bashardost, a member of parliament for Kabul, said that the issues were down to a combination of corruption and a breakdown in the relationship between the two ministries.

He added that lawmakers were failing to serve their country, adding, “Parliament is at the heart of corruption here. Most members of parliament choose to defend their personal interests rather than the national interest.”

In the meantime, pensioners continue to struggle to gain what is rightfully theirs.

Nahid (not her real name) used to work in the personnel department of the ministry of information and culture.

The 65-year-old said, “I have been coming here to the treasury for the last eight months. Whenever I come officials tell me to go away and come back next week.

“We’re treated like we’re a charity, as though officials don’t have to pay us. But this is our right.”

This report was produced under IWPR’s Supporting Investigative Reporting in Local Media and Strengthening Civil Society across Afghanistan initiative, funded by the British Embassy Kabul.