Avoiding queues is one reason the Public Servants Pensioners Agency Addis Abeba Region will start using banks for its pensioners' payments.

The Addis Abeba Region of the Public Servants Pensioners Agency has terminated its contract with the Ethiopian Postal Service Enterprise for the monthly payments to pensioners. The Agency will now be using seven banks to provide the service.

Close to 24,000 out of the total 160,000 pensioners are receiving their payments through the Enterprise's 31 offices, an arrangement that has been in place for over two decades. The payment of pensioners in Addis Abeba will now be carried out by seven banks - the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia, Bank of Abyssinia, Hibret, Awash, Oromia, Addis and Dashen banks - as of July.

The change has been made with the goal of reducing queues and protecting pensioners from exposure to the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) by minimising the need for close contact between people, according to Tamirat Gashaw, Addis Abeba Region Head of the Agency, which has over 750,000 registered beneficiaries countrywide.

The pensioners will be notified through 120 professionals at the Agency who have been working to create awareness of COVID-19 since April. The deployed professionals are working on-site at the 31 offices of the Postal Service.

The pensioners will have an account in any one of the listed banks, and their pension payments will be directly deposited into their account.

The Enterprise has now put up posters notifying pensioners of the transfer of payments after this month, according to Ziyen Gedlu, communications and international relations chief officer of the Enterprise, which will continue providing the same service in the Oromia and Southern Nations, Nationalities, & People's regional states.

"It was a social responsibility more than a profit-driven venture," she said.

The Agency, in collaboration with the Ministry of Innovation & Technology, has also launched its pilot e-service to benefit federal government pensioners over a month ago. The e-service provides primarily online registration of new users of the pension scheme under the Agency.

Previously, newly hired public servant pensioners were required to apply for their registration through their physical presence or a representative.

Once the form is filled, public servants can send it online using the e-services platform and get their identification number, according to Sisay Emeru, director of registration and pension entitlement at the Agency.

The Agency has started the service with 34 federal government offices as a test in Addis Abeba. Another service offered digitally is the change of address of the pensioners payment station. The Ministry of Innovation & Technology has, including the services by the Agency, availed up to 100 services online, with over 70 more ready to go live. It is working with institutions to speed up and ease different services to users.

"Initially, we're approaching institutions and offering this platform," said Bethlehem Bedilu, assistant director of government services and applications development and administration at the Ministry. "Now, service providers are taking the initiative and asking to have their clients access services through the platform."

Following the application of an institution, it takes a maximum of one month to have the services online, according to Bethlehem.

"This is setting aside the internal network and infrastructure set-up requirement of the organisations," she said. "Our job is to study the workflow of the services provided and integrate it with the system."

The Ministry is planning on upgrading the platform once e-transactions like online payments and document authentication are added in the coming year.

While it is commendable that these services will be availed to the pensioners, it raises the question of whether or not there are enabling environments for the pensioners to make use of them, according to Getnet Tadele (PhD), professor of sociology at Addis Abeba University.

"This requires not only the know-how to navigate the sites but having the right devices that can access it," he said. "We've got to make sure pensioners can use it with assistance."

As COVID-19 has and will continue to bring to light the gaps in the social security system, the government has a significant role to play in ensuring that pensioners get the support they need at this time, according to Getnet.

"The interventions should also be aligned with the specific socioeconomic needs of the pensioners," he said.

PUBLISHED ON Jun 27,2020 [ VOL 21 , NO 1052]

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