The contributory National Pension Scheme for government servants brings uncertainty about future pension benefits of government employees and makes government jobs less attractive.
Employees of Kerala Government began an indefinite strike today to protest against the pension scheme, though it will not affect serving employees who would continue to be eligible for statutory pensions. It will be the new recruits who would be hit by the pension scheme.
The government argues that more than 80 per cent of its revenues were now being spent on salaries and pensions. Though the pension scheme will only cause an immediate increase in government spending with a ten per cent contribution to be made to the pension fund, it will free the government from paying pensions to the new recruits two to three decades from now.
The government says that there was four-fold increase in pension liabilities over the last decade. However, this is in proportion to decadal increase in revenues and borrowings of the government. This is not to say that the level of expenditure on salaries and pensions are justified. It rather points to continuing inefficiencies of administration in checking expenditure and tax collection, despite availability of new tools such as computers. Large scale leakage of revenues remains unplugged. The employees too had not been helpful in this regard. Over-staff and idling are not rare in government service.
The government as well as employees contributions into the pension fund are to be deposited in government securities, public sector bonds and in mutual funds. When the deposits are made in government securities, the government itself would be paying interest on its own contribution and employees’ contribution. This is not going to improve government finances. Like salaries and pensions, interest payments are also a heavy burden on the State government.
Mutual funds offer no guarantee of reasonable returns. Some of the pension funds run by them have not performed well, giving some indication of what would happen to the money of employees. The employees would have to bear the cost of the authority formed to run the pension fund. When authority makes investments in mutual funds, the employees would also have to bear the fund management charges imposed by the mutual funds. Some of the government-run welfare funds give an impression what these costs would be— the welfare fund boards eat away much of the contribution by the workers. It would not be surprising if the government would have to give grants to the authority in future to ensure a reasonable pension to the employees a few decades from now. In any case, the pensions then would neither be assured or growing (with every pay revision) as is the case now.
The net result could be that the government jobs would not attract talents. And the performance of government could fall further. It is also doubtful whether the pension scheme would help the government to overcome in financial problems. The real beneficiaries would be those who get to handle the funds.