- Invites ICPC, banks for investigation Buhari assures pensioners of easy access to their pensions
Tobi Soniyi and Iyobosa Uwugiaren in Abuja
The Executive Secretary/Chief Executive Officer of the Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (PTAD), Sharon Ikeazor, has said she has discovered 9,000 doubtful accounts being used to defraud the agency, saying she is currently working with the banks and anti-corruption agency, ICPC to weed out pensioners that have died.
The CEO of PTAD made this know during the week while interacting with journalists in Abuja.
‘’The ICPC has also helped in this regard. We discovered about 9,000 questionable accounts,” she stated.
‘’It breaks my heart to see genuine pensioners languish in penury due to unpaid emoluments; we have promised to dismantle all bureaucratic bottlenecks that hinder smooth, credible and transparent pension administration.
‘’To achieve these dreams for the agency, we have commenced a nationwide verification of pensioners under the Defined Benefit Scheme in 2014 to create a credible, authentic and digitalised database for them.’’
She said the agency has started payment of the 33 per cent pension payment increase to the pensioners, adding that the increase came as a fall out of the upward review of the minimum wage to N18,000 in 2010.
The CEO said the Presidential Committee under the leadership of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) at the time had negotiated the 33 per cent with pensioners and labour unions, saying though the increment was approved, it was not implemented immediately, and thus creating accumulated arrears.
Ikeazor added: ‘’PTAD has commenced payment of the 33 per cent pension payment increase in October 2014, and all arrears for the year 2014 were paid in December 2014. The arrears for 2010 to 2013 remained unpaid as outstanding government liabilities at the end of 2014.
‘’However, the 2015 budgetary appropriation for pensions did not include provisions for the 33 per cent. The issue is compounded as a result of the current economic realities that government is facing due to dwindling revenues.
As at September 2016, PTAD has, however, been able to offset some of the 42 months arrears from al the pension departments based on available resources under each pension department.’’
On the on-going verification, she stated that PTAD has commenced a nationwide verification of pensioners under the Defined Benefit Scheme (DBS) in December 2014 towards the creation of a credible, authentic and digitalised database of pensioners.
She said that so far, PTAD has completed the verification of the Police, Customs, Immigration and Prison pensioners, adding that the verification of civil service pensioners commenced in the North-west Zone and was followed by the South-east Zone.
The PTAD boss added: ‘’We are currently planning for the remaining zones: North-east, South-south, South-west and North-central. The database of Nigerian pensioners under the DBS is being systematically sanitised, even as the verification continues this year. It will continue until all pensioners and Next-of-Kins of deceased pensioners under the DBS are verified.
‘’This year, we haven’t been able to do the verifications. You know the hiatus between the last DG being removed and the acting one. So, as I came in now, I’m going for verification because without it, we can’t pay proper pensions because we could be paying ghost pensioners. But with verification, we’re now eliminating ghost pensioners from our payroll.’’
She further stated that those who have been dropped off, who haven’t been captured in the database would now be captured, and after verification, the agency would do quality control of the database.
Speaking on the consistent reports of fraud enveloping the agency, Barrister Ikeazor said she working closely with ICPC to clear these issues.
A lot of pensioners have fallen prey to fraudsters. Some call them and say all sorts to them like we’re processing your pension payments, so pay this amount of money and we’ll sort you out. But now, PTAD has established a call centre’’, she added.
She said the agency has a website as well, which states clearly that pensioners don’t have to go through a third party to get their pension issues resolved.
Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari has said his administration’s reforms would ensure that Nigerians who spent the productive years of their lives serving the nation would not experience difficulties in getting their pensions.
Speaking at a meeting with Ikeazor at the State House, the president directed a speedy completion of the ongoing nationwide verification of pensioners.
A statement issued by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mr. Garba Shehu, said Buhari said the exercise was necessary because the success of the administration’s goal of putting in place an efficient pension scheme hinged on the availability of a reliable database.
In a presentation to the president Ikeazor said the PTAD management was determined to restore dignity to pensioners by protecting their funds and paying their entitlements promptly.
The Executive Secretary also said that in line with the anti-corruption posture of the current administration, the PTAD had put measures in place to ensure accountability, compliance with regulations and zero-tolerance for corruption.