The government has taken an initiative to digitize the pension system from 2021, which is said to be easier and accurate.
Under the digitized system, pensioners will receive the money through electronic fund transfer (EFT) and verify their accounts through a mobile phone-based app every six months.
The new system will replace the existing manual pension arrangements in Dhaka from next month and elsewhere in the country from next December.
Currently retired government staff draw their money by pension books and verify their accounts through physical appearance at pension offices every ten months.
Pensioners have been expressing annoyance over drawing the payments from fixed public banks, account verification harassment, and other lengthy processes. Besides, allegations run rife against some public officials who allegedly help draw pensions by showing dead pensioners alive or bringing in fake persons impersonating as widows of deceased pensioners.
The government believes the app-based service will ease the sufferings of retired government employees and shake off fake pensioners from the system.
The Ministry of Finance has taken up the mobile app development initiative.
Ministry officials said a pensioner's account will have a national identification number and fingerprint. The account will stop receiving money automatically if the fingerprint verification every six months mismatches or misses the deadline – treating the account holder dead.
Finance Division Additional Secretary Habibur Rahman said, "Through the app, pensioners will be able to confirm that they are still alive without a physical appearance at pension offices."
Ali Hasan, Deputy Chief Accounts Officer (Pension and Fund Management) to the Controller General of Accounts (CGA), said text messages are sent to pensioners every ten months to confirm with their nearby pension offices that they are alive.
"Many pensioners who can complete verification from their respective zila or upazila offices directly come to us. The app will ease the sufferings," he added.
In the current system, if someone dies soon after verification that he is alive, his pension allocation continues for the next ten months. Once the bank account becomes dormant, then the money goes to a specific account of the central bank and this process takes a few years.
The verification of a pensioner being alive through mobile phone every six months will save the government a substantial amount of money in such cases.
1 lakh fake pensioners dropped from list in 2017
Even the government did not have the exact number of pensioners until 2017. An individual with a pension book could collect the money from CGA Dhaka office and illegally from his or her respective district with another fake pension book at the same time.
The government could not identify such persons due to the manual pension disbursement.
According to finance ministry data, such one lakh pensioners were dropped from the disbursement list as that year the government formed the pensioners' database. But the fund disbursement to fake accounts could not be stopped.
The electronic fund transfer featured in the digitized system will enable the government to stop distributing money among fake pensioners and this will save the government a lot of money, said finance ministry officials.
They said 2.5 lakh pensioners have already come under the EFT, while 1.30 lakh pensioners received their monthly allowances last month.
Additional Secretary to the finance ministry Habibur Rahman said no one would be able to use pension books to draw money after next December.
"We asked the regional offices for pensioners' numbers several times and found their information flawed. The EFT will be more accurate," CGA official Ali Hasan told The Business Standard.
The government in 2017 set up the pensioners' database. The then Finance Division Additional Secretary Mohammad Muslim Chowdhury told this correspondent earlier that the authorities were able to shake off one lakh fake pensioners due to the database formation.
In recognition of that, the government honoured him with a public administration award. Muslim Chowdhury was also appointed as Finance Division secretary and comptroller and auditor general.
In February 2018, the then Finance Minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith inaugurated a digitized pension system pilot project for retired CGA officials.
Pension from any bank
Pensioners can draw money from the state-owned Sonali, Janata, Agrani and Rupali Bank. But the EFT system will enable them to draw money from any public or private bank.
The government will disburse money to the account a pensioner mentions in the EFT form. But the branch the pensioner will go to in order to draw money will have to have online banking facilities, said Ali Hasan.
He said pensioners are now preparing their individual EFT forms across the country.
The government had also planned to disburse pensions through mobile financial services. But later it drew back from the plan considering the hefty service charges.
Will ease pensioners' woes
Finance Division Additional Secretary Habibur Rahman said the government will disburse money to the pensioners' accounts through EFT on the monthly salary day of the current employees.
In the existing system, retired government staff have to turn up at regional CGA offices with the pension books .They are kept waiting for hours for the books, account numbers and amount of pension to be verified and only then is the money forwarded to their respective banks.
At the bank, the retired staff have to queue up again to collect the money. This process often takes a whole day.
Habibur Rahman said pensioners have to go through severe sufferings even in their old age for the monthly payments. He believes the digitized system will ease their sufferings.
At present, the wife or husband, under-aged offspring or differently abled children get the pension after the death of a retired government employee. In the new system, the family will have to apply for a continuation of pension through providing the death certificate relating to the pensioner.