KARACHI: The government decision to replace life certificates with biometric verification of pensioners twice a year has been put on hold after the authorities decided to go for more awareness and communication among the people before implementing the major decision, sources privy to the process said on Sunday.
The State Bank of Pakistan, they said, had last month issued a circular to the banks following the government’s decision to replace life certificates with biometric verification of pensioners twice a year, with immediate effect. It stated that the pensioner would be required to undergo biometric verification from any branch of a bank maintaining his or her pension account every year in March and September.
“The decision originally had to come in effect this month [March],” said a source. “However, this is not the case now. It has been put on hold to remove more confusion and spread more awareness of the benefits of the new system and this initiative. The authorities believe that the motive behind the move was not conveyed in a true spirit and it required more time to do this job. So the replacement of life certificates with biometric verification of pensioners twice a year is not going to be implemented this month.”
The new system, he said, was adopted to curb ghost pensioners and reduce the increasing burden on the budget. The overall pension spending as a share of tax revenue had reached 18.7 per cent as of FY20, almost double the level a decade earlier, he added.
‘Bank could not get my fingerprints because they have faded because of old age’
According to the conventional system, he said, a pensioner had to produce a life certificate twice a year in the bank where he or she used to receive pension. The life certificates were endorsed by a gazetted officer.
The sources said that the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) had claimed to have acquired a sophisticated machine that could read the fingerprints of a person even after the age of 60 years, which the biometric system usually failed to do. Under the arrangements, pensioners would be sent to Nadra offices in case the biometric system failed to verify them. However, a number of pensioners had complained that the system did not recognise their fingerprints and they failed to get registered through biometric verification.
“I visited my bank last year for biometric verification,” a pensioner wrote to Dawn. “Despite the best efforts by the manager and the staff, they could not get my thumb impressions and fingerprints because they have faded due to old age. I am 87 years of age and for the last one year my mobility has been restricted. I believe the government’s decision may cause unnecessary inconvenience to old pensioners like me. In my opinion, such steps are being put in place because the financial burden of pension on the government has increased for various reasons. First, the average age in Pakistan has increased which is why pensioners may be living longer. Second, all the preceding governments increased the monthly pension by at least 10-15 per cent. Lastly, the government thinks there may be fake pensioners. However, I would cite here the maxim of English law: ‘Let 10 guilty persons escape rather than that one innocent suffer’.”
Amid complaints from pensioners, the government had also allowed the life certificates if the Nadra machine could not read the fingerprints due to overage. The SBP circular said that in order to bring transparency and ease the pension payment process, the standard operating procedures (SOPs) had been amended with immediate effect.
“The government has eased up the pension payments and decided to directly pay in the accounts of pensioners. Pension shall be paid through a bank account either current or PLS (profit and loss account) maintained in the pensioner’s name.
“If the pensioner is unable to undergo biometric verification due to incapacitation by bodily illness, infirmity, or if his or her fingerprints do not exist due to old age or a genetic condition, he or she will provide a life certificate as per the SOPs,” said the circular.
Published in Dawn, March 15th, 2021