MPs set to decide on Bahrain's pension plans

Any change needs to get passed through a legislation approved by Parliament and the Shura Council

  

MPs are set to take a stand against any plans for a possible increase in monthly pension contributions and a reduction in retirement benefits.

A senior MP tried to calm tempers yesterday after people expressed outrage over reported plans to increase pension cuts and reduce benefits saying they were just ideas.

Parliament services committee chairman Mamdooh Al Saleh said the Social Insurance Organisation (SIO) was discussing various options at its meeting on Monday, including raising the age criteria, calculating pension on a five-year average rather than the previous year and ending the three per cent annual increase to pensions.

However, any change needs to get passed through a legislation approved by Parliament and the Shura Council.

“Workers and pensioners need not worry as any drop in benefits or increased financial commitments need to come through legislation,” he said.

“Any downgrade in whatever the deal is with Bahraini workers or pensioners is unconstitutional without legislators’ consent.

“The government will not issue any urgent legislation to bypass us during the National Assembly recess as it will be met with strong opposition from Parliament, as it for sure constitutes a setback for living standards and an already depleted community from Covid-19.

“We have been in contact with the SIO board, whose officials said that ideas were being presented as part of a what-if scenario and they were not actual plans.”

Both of Bahrain’s trade unions’ federations issued statements on Monday after being informed by their representatives in the board about what they described as the government proposed plans.

Similar plans were planned by the government in 2018 causing a public uproar, but His Majesty King Hamad intervened and ordered a halt.

“Instead of bringing in expert opinion on how to trim benefits and reduce contributions, the focus should be on Bahrainisation in civil service posts that have around 8,000 expats and the private sector with more than 80 per cent expats,” said Mr Al Saleh.

“Bahrainisation strengthens the funds’ finances and the more employment to Bahrainis the fund would be in a better shape,” he said.

Meanwhile, Bahrainisation probe committee head and services committee member MP Ebrahim Al Nefaei said re-engineering the funds without affecting benefits should be what studies are based on.

“Better management to resources, investment projects and review to what’s next should be the future approach and not the weakest link – pensioners or workers,” he said.

“People’s standards of living is a sensitive issue and red light and is not a solo decision by the government or anyone.

“Stirring the pot at a time when the government and legislators need to focus on Covid-19 and what’s beyond is time-wasting and just exerts unnecessary pressure and for that this issue needs to rest for the time-being.”

MP Khalid Bu Onk said the proposed amendments for pension fund survival were trespassing on public right.

“The SIO has just moved to a BD300,000 annual rent headquarters while its current location in the Diplomatic Area is just fine,” he said.

“They already have a closed premises of the former Gosi in the Gosi Centre before the unification in 2008.

“Wasting money and then suggesting people pay the price – any amendment that deprives people of rights or touches pockets is unacceptable.”mohammed@gdn.com.bh

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