Universal Pension: Another Praiseworthy Initiative of Sheikh Hasina

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Published on February 24, 2022
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Dr. Pranab Kumar Pandey

The Awami League (AL) government came to power in 2008 and started implementing the Charter of Change. The main theme of the Charter of Change was to build a developed Bangladesh free from hunger and poverty, which would be based on Digital Bangladesh. With that goal in mind, the present government under the leadership of Hon'ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has achieved tremendous development in Bangladesh in the last 13 years, resulting in our country being recognised as a role model of development in the world.

Even fifteen years ago, no citizen of Bangladesh or any other citizen of the world could have imagined that the flag of Bangladesh could be seen in space. But the Prime Minister has realized this elusive dream. The Bangabandhu satellite with the flag of Bangladesh is now in space. At the same time, the country has witnessed tremendous economic growth, which has resulted in increased economic growth and per capita income exceeding US$ 2500. In June 2008, Bangladesh's Foreign Currency Reserve was only US$ 7470.90 million. In only 13 years, it has risen to US$ 48060 million. Moreover, the government has implemented mega projects like the construction of Padma Bridge, Metrorail and underwater tunnel under Karnafuli River. The capacity of the government is identified through the implementation of these projects.

The people have appreciated the government under the Hon'ble prime minister's leadership for making exceptional decisions in various fields. The Hon'ble Prime Minister made such an extraordinary promise on behalf of the Bangladesh Awami League in the 2018 election manifesto. She made a commitment to introduce the universal pension system in the country. It was indeed an exceptional but realistic commitment because many people cannot earn after a certain age in the context of our country. If the State does not stand by them, it becomes very difficult for all those people to make a living.

Moreover, the second part of the constitution (in Article 15 (gha)) specifically states the provision of basic necessities: Article 15 states that it shall be a fundamental responsibility of the State to attain, through planned economic growth, a constant increase of productive forces and a steady improvement in the material and cultural standard of living of the people, intending to secure to its citizens (Ka) the provision of the basic necessities of life, including food, clothing, shelter, education and medical care; (Kha) the right to work, that is the right to guaranteed employment at a reasonable wage having regard to the quantity and quality of work; (Ga) the right to reasonable rest, recreation and leisure, and (Gha) the right to social security, that is to say, to public assistance in cases of underserved want arising from unemployment, illness or disablement, or suffered by widows or orphans or in old age, or in other success cases (The Constitution of Bangladesh, 2016).

Keeping the provision of Article 15 (Gha) in mind, the Hon'ble Prime Minister had promised the people before the 2018 election that if the Awami League government could manage to retain power, a universal pension system would be introduced. We have seen this practice in many parts of the world, especially in Europe and North America. One of the main responsibilities of the welfare state is to stand by the people in times of danger. With the introduction of a universal pension system in European countries, people do not have to worry much about their future. The Hon'ble Prime Minister made this commitment in her 2018 election manifesto with that in mind.

Like the leaders of other political parties, she did not stop at just promising the people. She is always striving to implement that promise. We have seen her urging the Ministry of Finance to do the same at various times. At a recent function, she directed the Ministry of Finance to take immediate steps to introduce universal pension. Following this, the Ministry of Finance has prepared a draft outline of the scheme. The Ministry of Finance hopes that this universal pension program will start in six months to a year.
But we must keep in mind that an institutional arrangement is needed to implement such an unprecedented decision. Besides, there is a need to make laws and regulations. Therefore, we have to allow this much time to the government. Although people will have to wait sometime for the benefits to enjoy when this process starts, it will never see the light of day if the process does not get started. We have to keep this in mind. If the universal pension scheme is introduced, the citizens of Bangladesh, like the developed world, will raise their heads and say that our government is benevolent and supports the people in times of need.

Now one may ask, what is this pension scheme? From the draft guideline of the ministry, it has been learnt that any citizen of 18 years and above can open a pension account with National Identity Card. If any 18-year-old deposits TK.1000/- per month in this account until 60, she/he will receive TK. 64,776 in the pension until the age of 80. If someone starts depositing money at the age of 30 and continues until 60, she will receive TK. 18908 in pension every month. However, the higher the deposit will be, the higher the pension amount will be. To be eligible for the pension, someone must deposit at least ten years.

Now one may wonder what will happen to those incapable of depositing monthly instalments. It has been learnt that marginal citizens who do not have financial capacity will also benefit from this scheme. The government will provide grants for marginalized people. There is nothing to be afraid of even if you cannot submit every month, and the arrears can be paid later without any penalty.

There is a difference between 'desire' and 'capacity' in governing the State as like as the personal life of the people. The government of a country like Bangladesh have many problems. Standing on a fragile economy with a huge population, Hon'ble Prime Minister has been relentlessly trying to build Bangabandhu's Golden Bengal since taking an oath in 2009. Even a decade ago, those who used to title Bangladesh to a bottomless basket call Bangladesh a role model of development now. This recognition did not come naturally. It required indomitable courage and enthusiasm. No previous political leadership in Bangladesh has shown such courage as the Hon'ble Prime Minister has shown in the last 13 years. In front of the people and the world, she has proved how to achieve more with less capability. With that specific goal in mind, she has made one exceptional decision after another that the world has admired.

When the world's major economies are struggling to overcome the health and economic catastrophe triggered by the negative impact of the Covid-19 pandemic that has been raging for the past two years, Bangladesh's economy is still standing on a solid foundation. While the annual growth of many developed countries is below 3 per cent, Bangladesh has achieved GDP growth above 6 per cent, a rare example in the world. Even when there is chaos and conflict among the people due to Corona in different countries, the Hon'ble Prime Minister has strongly dealt with the effects of Corona on the health and the economic sector. The government has also provided adequate assistance to the working people.

Amid such an economic crisis, the Hon'ble Prime Minister dreams of launching a universal pension scheme in the country. Bangabandhu gave independence to Bangladesh. He tried to turn Bangladesh into a golden Bengal during his short rule. But in the cruel irony of fate, his dream was not fulfilled by the bullet of the assassin. Bangabandhu's daughter Sheikh Hasina has revolutionised the country's development by embracing her father's ideals. Today, Bangladesh has become the Asian Tiger or the role model of development from the bottomless basket. Like other exceptional initiatives of the Hon'ble prime minister, the introduction of a universal pension scheme will create a sense of security among the people in the future. The way older people think about their future today will no longer be in their minds. Sheikh Hasina wants to implement a slogan 'above Sixty years, people will have pension smile' ('ষাট বছরের বেশি, পেনশনের হাসি'). And for this reason, Sheikh Hasina can be termed a people-friendly statesman.

Writer: Professor of Public Administration at the University of Rajshahi.