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Social security

The Merriam Webster dictionary defines ‘social security’ as “the principle or practice or a programme of public provision (as through social insurance or assistance) for the economic security and social welfare of the individual and his or her family”. Article 38(c) of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan 1973, says, “The State shall provide for all persons employed in the service of Pakistan or otherwise, social security by compulsory social insurance or other means”. Whereas in the developed world, ‘social security’ is a term for government support to unemployed or disabled persons, or to those who face difficulty in their survival on their own, our constitution promises social security for ‘all’ including persons employed in the service of Pakistan and everyone else (covered in the term ‘otherwise’). Not only constitutional coverage of ‘all’ in the social security is promising but the numerous institutions, packages and initiatives created/started by the federal government and provincial governments for providing social security are also very promising – at least on papers. Although the reality is not as promising as it may appear after counting the numerous organizations created by government for providing support to people of Pakistan.

To the extent of health services, the employees of corporations and multinationals are believed to enjoy more in comparison to their counterpart government employees, or employees of the government controlled entities. However, in terms of old age, deceased-survivors’ pensions or disability sustenance, the government sector employees seem to have an upper hand. The pension rules of government institutions are at least well-defined, though the pension amounts range from barely sufficient to meagre for low scale employees. Especially if it is considered that after retirement no other government support is available for the retired employees; most of whom are still supporting their children in their university-level education, arranging wedding of their daughters, and pulling themselves in hospitals owing to old age. Also, one’s heart would ache if one sees old retired government employees (or their survivors) getting their self-respect molested by the concerned staff. However, one will still have the consolation that they (retirees or their survivors) will get something in their hands in the end, rather than nothing.

For pension of private (formal) sector employees, the government created Employees’ Old-age Benefit Institution (EOBI) in 1976. Functions of EOBI include identification and registration of private sector establishments and industries; identification and insurance of the employees in registered establishments; collection of funds through contributions; fund management, and provision of benefits which include old-age pension after retirement, pension to deceased insured employee, disability pension, and old-age grant (if insured person retires but does not qualify for pension). Assuming Rs 15000 per month as the minimum wage, EOBI is estimated to collect contribution of Rs 750 per month at the rate of 5% of minimum wages from employers of all the relevant industrial and commercial organizations. As per estimate, it may also collect Rs 150 per month contribution at the rate of 1% of minimum wages from the registered employees of those organizations. Nonetheless, it only provides pension to those registered employees who fulfill the criteria of getting insured. As per reports, for the year 2018-19, contributions are budgeted as approx. Rs 22.6 billion versus Rs 29.7 billion (approx.) budgeted as dispersal for benefits to insured pensioners and their survivors. The differential of around Rs 7.1 billion (approx.) is expected to be provided by the income from profits of investments in real estate and other ventures. Nonetheless, the stories of corruption, surfaced in media in 2013 surrounding different investments of EOBI, were sure to create fear in the hearts of ordinary pensioners depending on EOBI. Their plight however is feared to be aggravated if the current confusion compounds surrounding the issue of EOBI’s devolution from federal government to provincial governments in the wake of 18th constitutional amendment.

Since EOBI’s function is more focused on pension, the healthcare for private sector employees and dependents is covered by provincial employees’ social security institutions (i.e., Punjab Social Security Institute – PESSI, Sindh Employees Social Security Institute – SESSI, and others). These provincial institutes also collect contributions from the insured industries, commercial and other establishments at the rate of 6% of insured employees drawing salaries up to Rs 18000. Though these institutes have other functions as well such as providing death grant, marriage grants, cash benefits etc., their major focus is on providing medical coverage to employees of insured employers. The medical services provided by these institutions are considered reasonably satisfactory. However, there are grapevines of lesser collection of contributions than the legally permitted ones, in connivance with those who matter. Besides there are calls of thorough scan of exorbitantly high administrative expenses of these institutions in comparison to the benefits extended to the employees. Besides EOBI and provincial employees’ social security institutions, there are certain other arrangements for providing social security to employees of private sector establishments. These include Workers Welfare Fund (WWF) at federal government level and Workers Welfare Boards at provincial level for providing low cost housing and other amenities to the industrial labor; mandatory group life insurance scheme of 1968; and others.

Summing up, the employed persons either in public sector or in formal private sector are relatively more socially secure in Pakistan. Nevertheless, their share in the total workforce is quite low. As per the International Labor Organization, the informal sector constitutes more than 70% of the total labor force in Pakistan. Their plight, especially those who work and live in rural areas of Pakistan, is poorer than the poor. The government has created many institutions to help the poor and needy in the country. These institutions include Pakistan Baitul Mal, Benazir Income Support program (BISP), Poverty Alleviation Fund, Zakat (either through Zakat & Ushr committees under provincial governments, or educational institutions and hospitals) to provide social security to the poor and needy. However in some instances, the help extended by these institutions is either ironically paltry or carry blame of political-bribery. For instance BISP disperse cash grants of less than Rs 1650 per month to a family. BISP also grants Rs 250 per child (4 to 12 years) per month for education if certain conditions are fulfilled.

The low-cost education and healthcare in government schools and government hospitals are also steps towards providing social security to low income groups. In addition, the micro-finance initiative that works towards providing an enabling environment for micro-finance in the country, have the potential to help establish smaller businesses and in the way reduce poverty, and ultimately provide social security to the people at grass roots level. Nonetheless, all such initiatives for providing social security would sound hollow if corruption, nepotism, favoritism and above all lack of capability and sincerity keep them bleeding. There is pressing need of changing the society from within and putting the basic ingredients of honesty, truthfulness and sincerity in all efforts and endeavors; otherwise, the number of people pouring at the doors of Edhi, Chippa and Saylani, langars (free meals at Sufi shrines); begging in the streets; committing street crimes, or puffing drugs under every flyover, at every footpath and at every nook and corner of the country would keep on increasing.

Asif Ali Abro, "Social security," Business Recorder. 2018-11-11.
Keywords: Economics , Social security institutions , Total labor force , Government institutions , Economic security , Provincial governments , Corruption , Nepotism , Favoritism