IT has been 18 months since Arthur Manase was appointed substantive general manager/CEO of Nssa. When he took over in January 2020, Nssa had junk status in terms of corporate governance and service delivery, but since then the stock has resolutely headed north. As part of the journey, Nssa has been holding consultative meetings with representatives of pensioners across the country. The Zimbabwe Independent (ZI) caught up with Manase to discuss this and other issues in Nssa’s transformation journey.
ZI: You have been on road shows to meet pensioner representatives across the country, what motivated you to do this?
AM: Nssa is on a drive to engage representatives of pensioners as we seek to enhance service delivery and improve the general welfare of our beneficiaries. The engagements are part of the Nssa transformation journey that is anchored on transparency, honesty and accountability.
The meetings with pensioner representatives provide Nssa with a platform to engage the pensioners and address issues of concern to both parties. We are also utilising the platforms to unpack the new NSSA vision, as well as to gather feedback, which will contribute towards creating customised solutions for our clients.
ZI: How often should pensioners expect to meet with Nssa leadership?
AM: Engagements with pensioners are ongoing, via various channels. However, as far as this more structured programme is concerned, we expect to meet with pensioner representatives at least twice a year. The meetings will take place across our regions — Harare, Bulawayo, Mutare, Gweru, Masvingo and Chinhoyi. Locally there will be constant engagements through our regional offices.
ZI: What are some of the key messages that you have for pensioners and other clients?
AM: Our message is that Nssa is on a transformation journey that will culminate in wholesome reformation. We are going back to basics. Nssa is there to deliver social security to the people of Zimbabwe. All our activities, henceforth, are aimed at providing decent social security benefits to the insured members of our schemes and their dependents, reflected by decent pensions and a decent standard of life for our pensioners/beneficiaries.
We want to make sure that our clients and stakeholders have confidence in NSSA. We have changed and now have a new culture driven by service delivery excellence. Our primary concern is the interests of the pensioner. If the people we serve have confidence in Nssa and its ability to deliver, it will go a long way towards realising our goal of becoming a world-class provider of social security by 2030.
ZI: What are some of the key issues that have come out from these engagements?
AM: The major issue coming out is that pensioners are crying — they want better benefits from Nssa. They have nowhere else to turn to, so they expect Nssa to come to their aid. They also want to be represented on the Nssa board to ensure that their voice is heard.
The meetings provide a platform for dialogue and from discussions held thus far, it is also apparent that there is an information gap that leads to a crisis of expectations. While Nssa appreciates the important role it plays as a provider of social security, it is important for clients and stakeholders to appreciate what social security is.
Nssa, as a social security service provider, is meant to coexist with other pension schemes. In the mix of things, Nssa is meant to be a safety net, complementing the retirement benefits provided by the occupational pension schemes. As a result, contribution rates to the scheme are capped — for example, the pensionable salary is currently capped at ZWL$5 000. To put things into perspective, the maximum contribution per month is currently pegged at ZWL$450 split equally between employer and employee. This obviously impacts on the level of benefits that Nssa pays out.
While the capping of pensionable salary may be with us for the foreseeable future, we are however pushing for a self-adjusting mechanism that will be linked to the monthly poverty datum line. Once this is implemented, Nssa will be able to be more responsive when it comes to level of pay-outs.
ZI: When you unveiled the new Nssa corporate identity in December 2020, you indicated that Nssa would explore ways of augmenting its pay-outs through other initiatives, has there been any progress on this front?
AM: The new Nssa walks the talk — judge us by our ability to deliver on the promises we make. A lot has been achieved during the first half of 2021. We have paid once-off grocery allowances to our beneficiaries. This was staggered between March and June, with the last tranche set to be paid to retirees on June 20.
In April we revised the minimum pay-out to an equivalent of US$25, from US$12 payable at the local currency equivalent based on the auction rate. Further increments are expected as follows, US$30 in July, US$40 in October, culminating in a minimum equivalent to US$60 by December 2021.
We are also utilising our mobile clinic and medical staff to deliver free healthcare services to pensioners. The clinic recently spent 44 days in the southern part of the country where it served communities in Zvishavane, Gwanda and Bulawayo. Other areas will be covered during the year.
In addition, in the medium term we shall be purchasing more mobile clinics so that each region has its own vehicle that will enable it to be more responsive to demands that may unfold.
In the next few days, we shall be commissioning a clinic in Harare that is specifically set for pensioners and staff. Again, this will be replicated across our regions.
The Authority is also exploring other ways to improve the welfare of pensioners through non-monetary benefits such as waivers of bank charges, discounts when purchasing goods at participating shops and the setting up of a revolving fund for retirees and pensioners. All these are set to be rolled out in June 2021.
The goat farming out-grower scheme we have been talking about is well on course and our pensioners are very excited and raring to go on this one.
ZI: What other measures is Nssa taking in pursuit of better service delivery to clients and stakeholders?
AM: Business strategies are implemented by people, as a result we have had to reorganise ourselves internally to ensure that our structure is fit for purpose. We know what needs to be done to accomplish our objectives and consequently we are moving people around to maximise on the great skills set that Nssa is blessed with.
ZI: There have been reports that you are in a fix regarding procurement of a social security operating system, is that a correct assessment?
AM: We are moving ahead with procuring an operating system that will enable us to operate efficiently and safeguard contributors’ funds. As a mass mobiliser of national savings, it is imperative that we have a system that is robust and safeguards the security of contributors’ funds, particularly in this age where cybercrime is rampant.
The history regarding supply and implementation of a social security system for Nssa is in the public domain. We are contesting the legality of a tender that was awarded to Twenty Third Century Systems (TTCS) in 2013 on the basis that the process was irregular. As a result, we are seeking to recover about US$10,4 million that was paid to TTCS and have since instructed our lawyers to pursue the matter through the courts.
We have also instituted legal action against a former senior Nssa official based on deliberate misinformation that led to the awarding of the tender to an undeserving supplier.
ZI: There have also been stories of fraudulent claims due to collusion between Nssa staff and service providers; is this a sign that the transformation journey is stuttering?
AM: It is not a sign that we are stuttering. In fact, this demonstrates that we are walking the talk. The matter you are referring to was unearthed internally and requisite escalations were made. It is also important to note that this was confined to Bulawayo.
Disciplinary proceedings against internal staff implicated were taken or are currently being taken. Doctors who were implicated have been arraigned before the courts. We have taken corrective action to address loopholes that led to the medical claims scam.
As I said before, the new Nssa has zero tolerance to corruption, both from within and without. We are currently running a media campaign discouraging people from making fraudulent claims against Nssa, as well as inviting them to alert the Authority of any fishy deals involving both staff or external individuals or groups.
The net is closing in — that is why we have prioritised investment in a robust ICT system. This is for the benefit of contributors and Zimbabweans. Like I said, ultimately, we want everyone to rest easy in the knowledge that Nssa is an efficient entity that delivers on its promises.