The FINANCIAL -- At just over USD 70, which is more than six times lower than in Turkey, and over 4 times lower than in Russia, Georgian pensioners have the lowest monthly pensions compared to their neighbour countries.
With its recently-introduced new pension system Georgian officials assure the country’s citizens that their living standards will improve in the future. However, the majority of economists are sceptical about this reform. The main risk and uncertainty related to the pension reform is how reasonably the Government will be investing the population’s savings. In addition, it is expected that net wages will be growing more slowly.
According to the Georgian Government’s new pension reform model, citizens, employers, and the state will all have to make monthly payments into the new pension fund. For employed people – 2% of their salary will be transferred to the pension fund; employers – 2% of salaries they pay will be transferred to the pension fund; the state – 2% of income tax revenue received from every employed citizen will be transferred to the fund.
In 2017 a Georgian retired man gets about USD 70, which is the lowest amount out of the neighbouring countries of Georgia. In Turkey, the average pension is about USD 460; in Russia – USD 260; Azerbaijan – USD 120; Armenia – USD 85. One of the non-governmental organizations – Society and Banks, provides a calculator for the new pension system. The calculator takes wages as constant over the years with a fixed 3% inflation rate. Thus, although the calculations are not exact, average pension amounts can be roughly estimated.
Now, let’s consider the example of a woman who is likely to be someone needing relatively higher government support when she retires. The lowest nominal wages in 2016 had people employed in the education and agriculture systems, with a gross wage of about GEL 550. Let’s assume her net wage will triple on average gradually. During the next 30 years let’s say she has on average GEL 1 600 net wage (GEL 2 000 gross), then she will get about GEL 660 monthly, which is GEL 300 in today’s money. A person who has GEL 1 000 net wage, will get a pension with purchasing power equal to GEL 220 on average. That is only GEL 40 higher than the pension in 2017.
Based on these models, there exist legitimate questions in society – why should participation in the pension system be semi-compulsory? Why do employees not have free choice? They might not trust the government and prefer to invest their savings on their own. Do current and future governments of Georgia have a consistent enough policy to be trusted? What if the provider of the service was the private sector, not government? What about the risks from the business sector? It is expected that companies will pass the cost on to employees in the long run and gradually decrease net average wages or will decrease demand on the labour market in the long run.
President of the Association of Young Financiers and Businessmen, Shota Gulbani says that the main risk and uncertainty related to the pension reform is how reasonably the Government will invest the population’s savings. According to the draft law about accumulative pension, for the first 5 years the pension fund must only be invested in high liquidity assets. However, everyone is aware that the Georgian stock exchange does not provide high liquidity indicators. Thus, two other sources are left to invest in: government bonds and foreign securities markets, which theoretically are considered reliable sources to invest in. “However, if we talk about the benefits, it should also be mentioned that pension beneficiaries will no longer be dependent on the government budget when they retire. Money accumulated in pension funds should be accessible to ordinary citizens and this can only happen in a well-organized stock exchange, where citizens will be the purchasers of the securities issued by pension funds. If we foresee the current reality of the Georgian stock exchange, it’s almost impossible. Hence, this really causes some scepticism about the system,” said Gulbani.
Discussing the challenges of the reform, the representative of ISET-PI, Norberto Pignatti emphasizes the risks of low coverage of the population and increased pressure on public finances (especially in the short term), unless basic pensions increase less than they would in an absence of the reform.
Furthermore, Pignatti states that it can be expected that, as time passes, part of the “employers’ share” will be shifted on to the workers during the negotiation phase of new contracts. “This does not necessarily mean that average wages will decrease. Actually, they are likely to keep increasing, given past trends. What is most likely is that net wages will just be growing a bit more slowly,” Pignatti told The FINANCIAL.