The Secretary to the Ministry of Public Administration, Management and Law & Order has called for an immediate report from the Director General of Pensions regarding charges levelled by the Ombudsman’s office over the Department’s alleged lethargy in responding to complaints by pensioners. Secretary to the Ministry, Padmasiri Jayamanna said he called for a report [...]


Ombudsman raps Pensions Dept. for lethargy over public complaints

Public Administration Ministry Sec. calls for report from Dept.; Pensions Chief refutes allegations

The Secretary to the Ministry of Public Administration, Management and Law & Order has called for an immediate report from the Director General of Pensions regarding charges levelled by the Ombudsman’s office over the Department’s alleged lethargy in responding to complaints by pensioners.

Secretary to the Ministry, Padmasiri Jayamanna said he called for a report after the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration (Ombudsman) wrote to him severely criticising the Department of Pensions for its “highly lethargic attitude” in responding to queries made by the commissioner’s office regarding issues faced by pensioners. “We have directed our complete attention to the issues raised by the Ombudsman,” Mr. Jayamanne stated, adding that given the complexity of the matter, he would not be able to comment further until he has seen the report from the Pensions Department.

Ombudsman, Retired High Court Judge Tissa Ekanayake told the Sunday Times that over 500 complaints had been submitted to his office by members of the public regarding various issues related to their pensions. “We often call for reports from the Department of Pensions on these complaints. But we have to send out several reminders and even then their response is extremely lethargic,” he lamented.

Mr. Ekanayake claimed he has made the Pensions Department aware of this issue, but observed that those in charge don’t seem interested in rectifying their shortcomings, ultimately putting pensioners and his own institution in great difficulty.

The delay on the part of the Pensions Department in responding to queries had become acute over the past two to three years, the Ombudsman revealed. “If we don’t receive responses even after two or three reminders, one can imagine what ordinary citizens undergo,” he said.

The situation was particularly distressing given that those affected were mostly elderly persons who had been in the state service and who were now depending on their pensions for everything; from educating their children to paying off mortgages, Mr. Ekanayake stressed. As such, delays in responding to their issues are bound to create severe inconveniences for the petitioners, he noted. “It also seems to us that the department is trying hard to reject these complaints on technical grounds, but I believe that if they used their powers properly, many of these complaints can be addressed and the petitioners’ requests granted,” he further observed.

The problem has already had tragic consequences in at least one case, officials at the office claimed. Letters involving one female petitioner, who was attempting to obtain her pension which had been unfairly denied to her, had been going back and forth since 2016. Her final letter to the Ombudsman’s office had stated that she was physically and emotionally drained. She had passed away recently while her claim was still being processed.

Several trade unionists also claimed there were issues regarding pensions for retired state sector employees. Numbering over 300,000, teachers make up the largest single block of state employees. Joseph Stalin, President of the Ceylon Teachers’ Union (CTU), claimed there have been occasions where teachers had to wait years for their pensions to be finalised. The matter was complicated because there were 97 zonal education offices which handled personal files related to teachers in their areas.

“A teacher ceases receiving his or her salary the moment they retire. As such, their pension should start the day after they retire from government service. There have been occasions where this is not the case. Some have had to wait two or three years to obtain their pensions. This is mostly because there are issues with their personal files, with documents missing,” Mr. Stalin explained.

The CTU Head claimed there seemed to be a clear lack of efficiency on the part of the zonal offices and the Pensions Department.

Retired officers from the Sri Lanka Administrative Service (SLAS) also have had issues with their pensions, noted Rohana De Silva, Secretary of the SLAS Officers’ Association. Officers can have issues with their pensions for a number of reasons, Mr De Silva said. It may be due to a disciplinary matter during their service, transfers between different departments that may no longer exist, or even missing documents in their personal files. “When it comes to personal files, the employees themselves also have responsibility to ensure that their personal files are up to date. Some of them wait till the day they retire to check their files and only then discover that vital documents are missing from their personal file.”

Mr. De Silva said state sector employees have the option of checking their personal files once every five years to see if everything is in order, but many don’t do so.

“Either they are ignorant of it, or they just don’t bother. But, in the end, they or their dependents could face severe difficulties in obtaining their pensions because of it.”

Jagath D. Dias, Director General of Pensions, strongly refuted allegations levelled by the Ombudsman regarding his department. Mr Dias insisted that the claim made by Ombudsman about having a backlog of over 500 complaints, was false. “Over the past 1 and 1/2 years, we have received only 77 requests from the Ombudsman’s office for information regarding complaints submitted by pensioners. We have responded to 43 of them. Another 34 requests are still being processed as we need to collect information from various Divisional Secretariats. We can only respond to them after we receive the relevant information,” he added.

Mr Dias stressed that, if the Ombudsman’s office did indeed have over 500 requests from pensioners as it claims, it should forward details of those requests to him.

He acknowledged that there are delays in responding to certain cases, but argued that such delays were unavoidable because they had to wait for responses from others.

“We have no mandate to interfere in the affairs of other institutions. We have to wait for all the information to come in before we can take a decision,” he said.

The DG also denied claims that his department was more interested in turning down requests on technical grounds. “We can’t go by emotions. When we take a decision with regard to a single pensioner, there is potential for it to have consequences for many others. We have some 615, 000 pensioners in the country and we have to remain mindful that one decision could impact the entire system.”

Mr. Dias said the department’s principle is to first ensure that pensions are given to those who have no other source of income after they retire. He said he would be happy to provide a detailed explanation to the Secretary of the Ministry regarding the issues raised by the Ombudsman.

Share This Post


Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.