“We invested everything in the National Saving Scheme (NSS) after my husband died. We sold the house and took the money and invested in the NSS, along with my husband’s gratuity,” says 76-year-old Shamima Tauqir. “My unmarried sister who is the nominee is 76 years old, she can’t go through court hassles for a succession certificate.”
The Central Directorate of National Savings (CDNS) traces its history to over 140 years ago to the British era. Going back as far back as World Wars I and II, the British galvanised this channel to meet war-related expenditures.
As an organisation, this institution has existed before partition. Today it has a portfolio of over Rs3.4 trillion through more than seven million investors. Its vision is to ‘inculcate thrift for mobilisation of savings’ and its mission is to extend financial inclusion to small savers.
Earlier this year, the procedure for NSS changed from the money being bequeathed to the nominee whose name was on the form to the requirement of a succession certificate.
“First an application needs to be made to the court, then a petition filed. Advertisements need to be placed in newspapers and a police inquiry made,” says a lawyer, explaining the process. In case the amount is greater than Rs15 million, the case goes to the high court and requires Rs150,000-200,000.
“Previously the process took at most a week but now it takes three months,” says Adnan Ahmed, an NSS officer. “It takes time to gather people and go to court, especially if some are living abroad,” he adds as all legal heirs, including the siblings of the investor, need to be physically present in court. “However, this is the process for all commercial banks as it is part of Islamic law.”
‘The CDNS is not the owner of my money, it is the custodian. They cannot make it so difficult for me to bestow my own money on whom I choose’
Nomination, which was the previous method, is not permissible under Islamic law. It is also prone to misuse since the sons may conceal the existence of their sisters/s. Sisters are unlikely to come forward in this scenario as they do not prefer to fight a case at the cost of their relationship with their brothers, opined the lawyer.
Given Family Registration Certificates and National Database & Registration Authority records, the involvement of courts prevents, or at least reduces, the likelihood of sisters or other heirs being swindled out of their fair share.
The problem Having said that, the process leaves a lot to be desired.
After approval from the courts and the government, before the change was implemented, it was publicised in newspapers and the gazette. When asked, the CDNS office acknowledges that they received about 200 replies. A number too minuscule to be considered given their 7m investors. Most investors are thus unaware of the change that has taken place. Of even the replies received, there were those who were against it on the grounds of belonging to different religions.
But the real problem lies in the profile of its investors and the vision and mission of CDNS. By its very nature, NSS attracts the more vulnerable of the society, the elderly, the widowed, parents wishing to secure a future for unmarried daughters or special children. Those who have the least access to legal aid and can ill-afford to spend hundreds of thousands on the process.
If CDNS’s mission is indeed more than just words, then the process needs to be more inclusive, less cumbersome and less expensive.
For example, one letter to the editor published in Dawn last month outlined the scenario of parents whose children are both special persons. A visit to the courts to obtain a succession certificate for them is difficult. Another letter spoke of the “torrid time an investor had in securing the certificate since the lawyer demanded a huge sum after learning the amount involved”.
Another claimant, JJ, is the adopted son of his aunt and uncle. To provide his father with independence for his day-to-day expenses, he invested his income in NSS under his parent’s name. His father has two brothers in his 70s facing a host of medical issues which in the time of corona makes JJ very hesitant to request them to visit court for the succession certificate so he is unable to access his own money.
Ms Tauqir has nine siblings scattered all over the globe, making the succession certificate a highly onerous task. If successors are abroad, they can transfer their power of attorney to someone else but this also requires a visit to Pakistan’s embassy, creating a hassle for the elderly and the infirm.
“The CDNS is not the owner of my money, its the custodian. They cannot make it so difficult for me to bestow my own money on whom I choose. The court needs to change, the ulema need to update their laws and understanding of sharia according to ground realities instead of getting involved in politics,” she raged.
Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, November 23rd, 2020