Annual pension payments close to $20 million

More than 10,000 pensioners draw on monthly benefits totaling close to $20 million a year from the Senior Citizens Benefit Fund (S.C.B.F.), a newly released report shows. 

The Fund’s monthly obligations of $145 per pensioner amount to $17.67 million in payments each year. The fund also incurs $1.9 million in medical and travel expenses, the S.C.B.F. report for 2018-19 says. 

The report finds benefits have increased steadily from $60 to $140 a month. 

The Chief Executive Officer for the Samoa National Provident Fund, which administers the S.C.B.F., Pauli Prince Suhren said that the Fund was set up to ensure citizens received all their entitlements under the law without delay. 

“These benefits relate to monthly pensions, free health care and free passage on sea vessels provided by some of the essential services of the Government,” the report says. 

“The Office is also duty bound to assist all pensioners with their grievances and difficulties.”

Pauli outlined challenges faced by the S.C.B.F. which include disputes with pension account trustees and agents, family living obligations, and community, village, and religious commitments.

“As Paymaster, the Senior Citizens Benefit Fund paid out 10,367 beneficiaries at the end of June 2019 a total of $17,673,343 for monthly pensions, and $1,917,239 for medical and travel expenses all of which are funded fully by Government,” the report says. 

In keeping with its ongoing service improvement responsibility, amendments to the Act were made and became effective on 1 January 2000.

The changes accepted Permanent Residents of Samoa into the Fund for the first time. 

The same amendment allowed flexibility for pensioners continuing to receive benefits while overseas for medical treatment.

Benefits can be paid in full upon the production of medical reports from overseas medical institution centres.

Pauli noted that to keep pensioners’ money secured, the Cabinet approved the Board and Management’s recommendation for a new payout system for the Fund’s benefits. 

“The pensions are now being paid through the Commercial Banks, Western Union and Samoa Post Office,” the report reads. 

“Cash payout by the staff of Senior Citizens Benefit Funds at villages and districts all throughout the country has been ceased. 

Existing S.C.B.F. staff have been maintained to monitor pensioners and validate that they are continuously present in Samoa. 

The Minister of Finance, Sili Epa Tuioti, is quoted in the report as saying the Fund is a form of recognition and appreciation of senior citizens’ services and contribution to the country’s benefit:

“The Fund was designed not to replace the culture of family tradition, nor to impede the enterprising nature of a Samoan in his daily living, or as a surrogate of his freedom as a citizen of this country, but simply as a passage to enhance his rights as an aged to dignity, equality and long life.”

The Fund is part of the International Social Security Association (I.S.S.A.) of nations. 

The Minister noted that since November 1990 the Fund’s beneficiaries have decreased by four per cent; its costs have increased by five per cent in this Financial Year 2018-2019 compared to the year prior. 

“At the close of the 2018/2019Financial Year, the Fund has in its Operations cash of [$1.6 million] from [a] total budget approved of [$19.2 million,” he said. 

The Fund had $1.8 million in outstanding creditors from 2018-19 mostly consisting of medical expenses; free travel on Samoa Shipping Corporation boats.

Some $48,600 is also disclosed in the financial statements as unclaimed payments. 

The Chairman of the S.C.B.F. Board, Leasiosiofa’asisina Oscar Malielegaoi, said the budget appropriated $19.2 million for the 2018-19 Financial Year to accommodate the Fund’s outgoing and administrative obligations. 

“Priorities in the Budget are for a monthly pension of $135 from July to December 2018 and increase to $145 from January to June 2019; free travel on Government inter-island sea ferries, and free medical treatment and medications at Government Hospitals,” the report said. 

Leasiosio said: “The Services for the Senior Citizens, however, have never failed its obligation of ensuring that the Senior Citizens of Samoa receive their benefits and entitlements with speed and efficiency”.

Earlier this year the Government passed a one-off $300 payment to senior citizens as part of an economic stimulus package.

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