KARACHI: The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) has recommended an increase in retirement age in order to reduce the average coverage period of retirement benefits.
“The increase in the level of standard pension age may reduce the average coverage period of retirement benefits,” the SBP said in a report issued the other day.
The pension system follows two eligibility criteria for retirement: the qualifying service of 25 years and the threshold of 60 years of age. Interestingly, most of the employees in federal, provincial and defence service join their departments in early- to mid-twenties, and complete 25 years of services during their early- to mid-50s and therefore become eligible for early retirement.
It is pertinent to mention that the retirement age of 60 years is already markedly lower than many other countries, and so the early withdrawal after completion of qualifying service puts further strain on fiscal sustainability of pension expenses.
In this regard, the increase in level of standard pension age may reduce the average coverage period of retirement benefits. In addition, the delayed retirement age will support in increasing the contribution period once the government opts for a funded system in the subsequent round of reforms.
The SBP also suggested rationalizing the survivorship benefits. The first and foremost reform should be to exclude all family members other than minor children and widows from the list of eligible survivorship beneficiaries.
Any delay in such reform will cause family pensions to grow manifold in the coming years due to the probable increase in time span of pension benefits in each individual case. In the case of widows, the survivorship benefits can be rationalised in accordance with the increasing labour force participation rates of women.
The SBP said that the computation of commuted benefits involves a particular factor assigned to each year after retirement which determines the advance payment amount for each retiree.
The commutation table laid out by the Ministry of Finance incentivises early retirement with excessively high commutation factors applied to the younger cohort. This is in stark contrast to the traditional pattern followed in most other countries.
For example, in the UK, the commutation facility is only offered to retirees after attaining a certain age for different employee groups (48 years in the police department, for example), whereas the Indian pension structure offers minimal variance in commutation factor to different age groups. The growing fiscal burden due to high commutation expenses calls for a restructuring of the commutation mechanism, with rationally designed factors and revision in eligible age profile to make the overall pension structure actuarially fair: the lifetime benefits enjoyed by those who retire early or choose to avail commutation and those who opt out of such facilities.