Elderly citizens awaiting payment

269 of the pensioners filed a contempt petition in the LHC


Akbar Bajwa March 13, 2015
Payment to the first group was to start on February 1, 2015, and end the same month. PHOTO: NNI

LAHORE:


The Finance Department has failed to pay arrears of pensions owed to retired government employees over the age of 75 years as directed by the Lahore High Court (LHC) in 2009.


Requesting anonymity, a Finance Department official said that Rs26 billion arrears owed to 175,000 pensioners were still unpaid.

Before 2001, government employees scheduled to be retired soon had the option of getting a lump sum payment in lieu of half their pension. The commuted pension was restored 15 years later. Any raises in pensions sanctioned during those years became payable. However, in December, 2001, the then finance minister Shaukat Aziz amended the Pension Rules. In 2009, the LHC ordered the Finance Department to release the commuted amount to the pensioners after doubling it and adjusting for inflation.

In compliance with the court orders, the federal and provincial governments of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh and Balochistan started payingthe arrears to pensioners. The Punjab government did not. In March 2014, 269 of the pensioners filed a contempt petition in the LHC. The Punjab government filed a review petition in the Supreme Court which was rejected on March 31, 2014, with the observation that the government’s interpretation violated the Constitution. The Finance Department then agreed to pay the arrears and submitted a payment plan. The pensioners were divided in four groups. Payment to the first group was to start on February 1, 2015, and end the same month.

On February 10, the Finance Department established a Complaints Cell and told pensioners to appear before the cell in person to be eligible for payment of the arrears.

The Ombudsman’s Office declared the Complaints Cell illegal. In a letter written to the finance secretary, it asked the department to follow the court order in letter and spirit.

“The Finance Department is interpreting the orders of superior courts according to its own wishes. It is tantamount to deriding the pensioners and the court,” it stated.

The letter stated that special cells should have been established at the Accountant General’s Office and the district accounts offices.

Professor Mushkoor Hussain Yaad, one of the pensioners, said the complaints cell was just a bureaucratic ploy to delay the payments.

“We have been ordered to go to the cell for scrutiny, personal hearing at this old age. The staff there treats us harshly. Our case for repayment is going nowhere,” Abdul Rauf, 81, a retired Wapda worker said.

Chaudhry Boota, 88, said: “I am a heart patient. It has not been easy for me to go to court hearings and visit the offices to get my full pension restored. Now they are telling me that I have to visit the Complaints Cell.”

Zafarullah Khan, 89, said: “I took part in the Pakistan Movement and later migrated from Ambala. Is this the way to repay us for our services to the nation?” Abdul Haq, 79, said: “The payment plan has been mentioned in the court order. However, the Finance Department is trying its best not to implement the orders. A number of our fellow pensioners died waiting for their money.”

Published in The Express Tribune, March 14th, 2015.

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