….Are convicts being sidelined unconstitutionally?
A senior government official, who refused to be named, said government needs to amend the Constitution so that it clearly distinguishes which groups are eligible for pension.
“If challenged in court, government could find itself in a predicament because it[pension for all seniors] is a Constitutional provision. Currently most of our laws are outdated and there is a need to probe many of the laws to ensure that they meet the current needs and situation in the country,” said the official.
There are 45 prisoners over the age of 60 languishing in Namibian jails (as at September 2017”.According to official statistics provided by the Namibian Correctional Services (NCS), of the 45 there is only one female of pension age.
The eldest prisoner in the country is 84 years.
The Windhoek Correctional facility houses 18 pension-aged prisoners, while the Oluno Correctional facility (9), Hardap (7), Evaristus Shikongo (8), Walvis Bay (2) and Gobabis with one (1).
Article 95 which deals with the Promotion of the Welfare of the People outlines that the State shall actively promote and maintain the welfare of the people by adopting, inter alia, policies aimed at ensuring that senior citizens are entitled to and do receive a regular pension adequate for the maintenance of a decent standard of living and the enjoyment of social and cultural opportunities. Although the Act does not say that anyone in lawful custody loses their pension rights, prison authorities this week confirmed that prisoners have their pension right removed.
The authorities could not say which powers were being used to effect such a decision.
How much would it cost? Based on a minimum pension of N$14,400 per year for one senior citizen(N$1200 monthly), the total cost to cater for the pension needs of the 45 inmates who are of pension age would be about N$648 000 per annum.
Calls for improved state pension rights for prisoners are likely to be controversial but these are issues that need to be considered particularly in the context of a growing number of older people in prison and in light of the constitutional provisions.
There is a total of 3928 convicts in the Namibian correctional facilities, 3827 males and 3928 females.
This also includes a total of 230 foreigners, 225 males and 5 females. Of the total figure, 113 are Namibians who are not sentenced yet and 30 non-Namibians awaiting trial.
There are a total of 2698 correctional officers in the country with 1535 males and 1163 females.
When contacted for comment, the Ministry of Poverty Eradication’s spokesperson Lot Ndamanomhata only said the constitution does not make provision for pensioners to receive a pension.
“They are not entitled to pension once they are incarcerated, but when they are released they can apply for pension and if they meet the requirements they will receive their benefits,” he explained.
Ombudsman John Walters this week said he is not aware of the situation but promised to follow it up.
He did however provide a generic response, saying: “I cannot comment on it n detail since I do not know the exact provisions of the Act.
But common sense dictates that prisoners are not entitled to pension because they are provided for by government in the institutions that they are detained with shelter and food.”
According to Eveline January, the Namibian Correctional Services (NCS) Public Relations Officer, the country’s correctional system is faced with a shortage of staff and financial constraints.
She also expressed concern over “ageing inmates”.
“We should rather focus on ageing offenders that are increasing. The sentences issued are lengthy which means in the future we will have an elderly population of offenders. The prisons will become like old age homes and they will need to be modified,” she said.
Explaining why inmates do not get the old-age pension, Januarie said: “If they have private pensions they can access it, it is only the government pension that they cannot receive.
It is not that we do not want to accord them a pension, but their needs are already catered for in terms of food, shelter, healthcare and education.”