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Last Updated: Saturday, 8 November, 2003, 07:36 GMT
Brazil 'sorry' for pension furore

By Steve Kingstone
BBC correspondent in Sao Paulo

Brazil's Government has apologised to the country's most senior citizens for forcing them to attend social security offices to prove they are still alive.

The policy, launched earlier this week, applied to all people aged 90 and over and was intended to root out fraud.

But the measure was hastily revised amid a hail of criticism.

Pensions minister Ricardo Berzoini went on television to apologise after the government was accused of cruelty and inhumanity by opposition groups.

It was a well-intentioned policy that backfired badly.

Brazil's over-90s will still have to re-register... or face losing their benefits altogether
By asking pensioners aged 90 and above to re-register at social security offices, the government had hoped to expose fraudsters.

What it ended up with were queues of anxious elderly people clutching bundles of documents.

Many of them had to be carried to a counter to complete the paperwork.

Policy defended

Ricardo Berzoini said that, as the minister, he assumed full responsibility for the disruption.

He said he wanted publicly to apologise to the nation's pensioners.

But, that apology not withstanding, the government is defending the aims of this controversial policy.

It says that as many as a third of the pension claims by people aged 90 and above may be fraudulent.

Most of the fraudsters are said to be younger people claiming on behalf of relatives who have already died.

Brazil's over-90s will still have to re-register by the end of the year or face losing their benefits altogether.

But the government now says much of the paperwork can be done in people's homes.

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