National Assembly Complex
The Senate has mandated its Committee on Establishment, and Public Service Matters to investigate the payment and management of pension funds by the Federal, States and local government, to correct all anomalies inherent in the system, Linda Eroke writes
Respite may have come the way of pensioners in the country, as the Senate has initiated probe into the payments, management and administration of pension funds over the years.
The upper legislative chamber has mandated the Joint Committee on Establishment, and Public Service Matters to investigate the payment and management of pension funds by the Federal, States and local government.
At its sitting of Wednesday, November 2, 2011, the Senate had expressed concern over the agonising and distressing plights of Nigerian pensioners and the raging controversies of corruption and inefficiency in the management and administration of pension funds in the country.
Desirous of providing an enduring legislative framework to facilitate efficiency and effectiveness in the management of pensions as well as its resolve to eliminate all variables/factors inhibiting excellence thereto, the Senate passed a resolution.
This mandated the Senate Committee on Establishment, Public Service, States and Local Governments to carry out a comprehensive investigation into the management and administration of pensions funds and payment of pensioners in Nigeria pursuant to Sections 88 and 89 of the 1999 of the country’s Constitution (as Amended).
Senate Public Hearing
To that effect a public hearing, chaired by Senator Aloysious Akpan Etok, was recently organised in Lagos for the South West Zone. The public hearing was attended by representatives of federal, states, and local government, pensioners and the organised labour.
It was an avenue for members of the Senate and stakeholders of the Nigeria Union of Pensioners to meet and exchange views on ways to address the myriad of problems confronting the pensioners in the country.
The public hearing was conducted to enable all pensioners present their grievances, complaints and observations to the Senate through the Committee for appropriate redress. The public hearing was also meant to collate all professional views and recommendations on how to institutionalise prompt payment of pensions and efficient/effective pension management and administration through legislation.
The Committee is vested with oversight powers over all pensions offices/establishment of Federal Government and also works on the budgets of these pensions establishments at the National Assembly in consonance with the standing orders of the Senate.
In his address at the public hearing, Chairman of the Committee, pledged that the Committee will discharge its duties and exercise the powers conferred on it to ensure that corruption, embezzlement and misapplication/diversion of funds are exposed and the perpetrators brought to book.
He assured that all necessary legislative remedies will be provided to bring to an end the agonies and pains to which pensioners have been subjected.
“Today marks a new dawn in our legislative actions for a permanent solution to the ugly, unacceptable, deplorable and repulsive condition and system of pension administration and payment in Nigeria which had brought untold hardship, bitterness and misery to our Elder Statesmen-our pensioners. These pensioners had meritoriously put in all their years of youthful strength and intellect to the service of their fatherland.
“These faithful men and women retired when their strengths and intellect began to greatly diminish and fail. They must not be subjected to any despair, misery or sufferings of any form whatsoever. In order to put a permanent end to this deplorable and awful situation, the Senate has resolved to, through the instrumentation of law and institutionalisation of necessary legal framework on pension administration and management correct all the anomalies inherent thereto,” Etok said.
He reiterated that the Senate Committee is determined to bring the sufferings of pensioners to a permanent end, and enjoined pensioners to present their complaints with evidences and other necessary documents that will support the issues raised.
In a memorandum submitted by pensioners in the South West Zone that would aid investigation of pension payments and management in the country, National Union of Pensioners (NUP), called for the decentralisation of the pension payments system, which will allow State Governments to handle the payments of the Federal share on behalf the Federal Government pensioners.
The Pensioners at the public hearing further made a strong case for the biometric verification exercise to be carried out on five yearly periods.
Leaders of the NUP South West Zone who called for the decentralisation of the payment system argued that the payment system handled by the Head of Service of the federation had been characterised with a lot of problem and short payments.
Chairman, NUP Ondo State Council, Chief Eniolotu, lauded the step taken by the Senate at a time when the welfare and well-being of pensioners are put on the back burner and when hope, confidence and trust are lost.
He lamented that the exercise of task team on biometric verification is characterised by the lacklustre handling occasioned by casualties recorded nationwide during the exercise, adding that mismanagement and abuse of office has become a culture in the system.
“Pensioners are still made to come to Abuja for complaints and payment to the joy of officials in the presidency at the detriment of retirees despite the unending verification exercise. The last exercise was a complete fiasco verification for future which should be carried out in each local government area of the federation in collaboration with the state chairmen and secretaries along with the chairmen and secretaries in the local government areas.
“The ending complaint of non-payment, delayed payment, incomplete or short-changed payment of pension is a deliberate, callous and experimental exercise to kill retirees. Consequent to the above, decentralization to state will be the panacea to make up leeway,” he said.
Eniolotu, who observed the violation of due process in the payment of gratuity, said retirees are being subjected to frequent visits couple with unethical influences before payments are released by government officials. He called for the speedy passage of new legislations to strengthen pension administration in the country.
“Up to the year 2002 in some states the federal government released money quarterly to each state. Government thereafter cancelled the system and the system was centralised. Since 2003 to date, pensioners have either been short-changed or are not pay rolled.
“This calls for the restoration of status quo anti. For example, Ondo State Government pays pensioners before state civil servants are paid monthly salaries. Up till last week, no pensioner has received the federal pension of January 2012,” he added.
He appealed to the Senate Committee to give a fiat to all concerned authorities for the immediate payment of backlog arrears of harmonization, short-changed monthly payments, retirement and death gratuity.
In his address, Chairman NUP, Lagos State Council, Alhaji Nojeemdeen Adebayo Ibrahim, commended the Senate for organising the facts finding exercise aimed at reducing the agonies of pensioners.
The NUP Chairman submitted that the working arrangements being put forward by the Federal Government has made it difficult for pensioners to enjoy the fruit of their labour.
He lamented that both the federal and state pensioners who are under the purview of the Head of Service of the federation are being subjected to series of hardship as a result of fruitless verification exercises which never brought any improvement in payment of pensions.
He explained that the verification exercises conducted always attract casualties throughout the federation as a result of inadequate planning, noting that head of service organises the exercise without taking into consideration the hardship being experienced the pensioners.
“I wish to submit humbly that the working arrangement being put forward by the Federal Government has made it difficult for pensioners to enjoy the fruit of their labour. Some of them are bed ridden while there is no provision to take care of the sick ones.
“Between 2001 and 2010, there were two verification exercises in order to place pensioners on e-payment. Between August and September 2011, there was another one called revalidation which up till now has yielded no good result. Instead it adds more poor condition to the plight of pensioners,” he said.
Irregularities in Pension Payment
Ibrahim, who also expressed concern on irregularities in the payment of pensions observed that a lot of pensioners’ names were omitted in the payroll after partaking in the verification exercise while other names that were already on the payroll before the verification/revalidation exercise disappeared on the payroll.
He explained that the affected pensioners have not collected their pensions, stressing that no action has been taken to correct the anomalies even after a report was made to the Head of Service.
“For the past few years the federal government has been handling the payment of pensions through the Head of service a lot of problems had arisen. Verification exercise and revalidation carried out from year 2000 to date were meant to put records straight but the reverse is the case.
“Many pensioners are not fully paid. The short-payment is very alarming. Up till now some pensioners are receiving N2,000 per month. All efforts to correct these anomalies have ended up in fruitless efforts,” he added.
Given the numerous problems associated with the payment of pension across the country, the NUP chairman submitted that state governments be allowed to handle the payments and be reimbursed by the federal government.
He further called for the verification exercise to be carried out on five yearly period and that irregularities in the pension payment be corrected without further delay.
“Pensioners have tasted payment under both the federal and state government and they have compared both. Now they have seen which favour them more. I appeal to you to consider the request to allow the state government to shoulder the payment,” he stressed.
Meanwhile, Lagos State Government has demanded the sum N1.12 billion which it paid on behalf of the Federal Government to Lagos State retirees between 1999 to May 2002.
Lagos State Commissioner in charge of Establishment, Training and Pension Matters, Mrs. Modupe Oguntuase, stated at the public hearing that Federal Government owed the state the sum of N10.1 billion, being arrears of contribution of 5 per cent of the emoluments of active Local Government workers in the state.
She said the state government made several demands on the Federal Government for the arrears, which accumulated between 1999 and 2010 without any positive result.
She also said that with regard to pension to retirees from Local Governments in the states including retired primary school teachers, the Federal Government was indebted to the state government to the tune of N10.1 billion as at December 2010.
The above figure, according to her, is made up of N3.2 billion that accrued between 1999 and 2002 and N5.2 billion, which accrued between 2003 and 2007 with both figures having been verified and agreed upon by the two parties. Another N1.7 billion which accrued between 2008 and 2010 was being verified by both parties, she stated.
She expressed regret that efforts to get the Federal Government to reimburse the state government for these payments have been on overtime.
She added, “Recently, a visit was made by the Director, Pensions Reimbursement Civil Service Pensions Office to Abuja to pressurise the Federal pensions Office for the payment through interpersonal touches.”
The state government also made a strong case for the decentralisation of retirees’ verification exercises, conducting same in at least 10 locations across the state with a view to easing the stress that senior citizens pass through getting verified for their pension.