By Ifeanyi Omokwe
I am minded to argue that henceforth, anyone that would be appointed to lead the National Pension Commission (PenCom) must undergo a compassion test! The test must also be made mandatory for all executive members of the commission. Apart from competency test, passing a compassion test must be part of the criteria for promotion to top management positions.
This has become imperative in order to sustain the current gains under the leadership of Aisha Dahir-Umar, who brought empathy to the job of overseeing the Contributory Pension Scheme for public and private service. I donâ€™t have the competence to suggest how this can be done, but government can hire consultants with such expertise to do the test. Passing such a test should weigh heavily in the consideration for future appointees of the commission.
Any keen observer of the activities of the Commission since Aisha Dahir -Umar was appointed the Acting Director General would not fail to see how the welfare of retirees has climbed to the top of the priority list of the commission. Although PenCom is charged with the administration of a uniform Contributory Pension Scheme for both the public and private sectors in Nigeria, and ensuring retirees get their benefits as and when due, our experience in the past has not been salutary.
Federal Government retirees, especially have been hard hit by the lack of compassion in the administration of pension funds. Many retirees couldnâ€™t access their pensions months and even years after exiting service. It led to a situation where people who gave their active years to public service became traumatised post retirement due to inability to access pension regularly.
But since Aisha Dahir-Umar entered the scene at the top of PenCom, things are looking brighter for retirees and less apprehensive for those planning to exit public service.
Pre-retirement seminars. Workshops and enlightenment tours have become more regular and painstaking. Potential retirees are taken through the process of pension fund administration, options after exiting service and other activities that could ease the pain of retirement.
The process for the verification of prospective retirees from the Federal Civil Service for 2019 is scheduled to being next month. This is a proactive move that is designed to eliminate hitches and delays in accessing pension. Although this is not the first time the agency is embarking on the exercise, there is a new sense of urgency and diligence in the process.
This is not surprising because Mrs. Dahir-Umar had carefully re-organised the agency and ensured that committed persons were put in sensitive positions. Although this did not go down well with some staffers used to the old ways of doing things, the move has become key in the current regime of diligence service delivery in the commission. She has been accused of nepotism and favoritism by her detractors, but a look at the management list of the commission immediately puts a lie to the allegation.
Not only is the management team diverse, the re-organisation appeared to have done so that square pegs can be in square holes. Again, the move is not surprising because the Acting DG was an insider at the time of her appointment. She doubtless saw at close range the mindless impunity and poor governance that characterised previous management of the commission.
No fair-minded observer of the activities of the commission would deny that important decisions of the commission are debated and agreed upon by the management under Aisha Dahir-Umar, and other stakeholders even though there is no board in place. It speaks to her commitment and compassion for senior citizens that the Acting DG relies on joint decision making to run the agency. The absence of a board would have been a license for some less patriotic executives to run rough-shod on the agency and act without due consultations.
That was the previous practice of paying retirees 50 per cent of their RSA (retired savings account) gratuity upon retirement was recently changed. The previous template gave lump sum to beneficiaries at retirement and consequently paid meager sums as monthly pension. But following series of complaints by retirees that the template was not helpful to them in retirement, it was changed after consultations with stakeholders.
Thus, the reviewed template now allows retirees to earn at least 50 per cent of their last monthly salary as pension. This directly addresses the complaint that retirees monthly pension was not enough to take care of their need.
Also, federal government employees who retired in January 2017, and who are yet to start receiving pension would also smile soon. In this category are those who retired this year. An inter-ministerial committee of which PenCom is part of has worked out the details and included the funds in this yearâ€™s budget. This captured the total pension liability owed to the Contributory Pension retirees due to both the 15 per cent and 33 per cent pension increases of 2007 and 2014 respectively
In addition, the outstanding accrued rights of federal government employees who retired in 2017 as well as the amount due to those retiring in 2018, have been submitted to the federal government for appropriation in the 2018 budget. The federal government has also shown commitment to the plight of the retirees by settling outstanding pension liabilities, as evidenced by the release of N54 billion in April 2017.
There is no doubt that PenCom and the federal government are committed to ensuring these liabilities are cleared as soon as possible. It is commitment that shows compassion for people who spent their active years in the service of their fatherland.
If Dahir-Umar has been able to improve the efficiency of PenCom as an Acting DG without a board since April 2017, there must be something about her leadership that has kept her in the saddle. That something, perhaps, is her compassion for her retired compatriots.
But the credit must be shared with her colleagues at the commission who toil tirelessly to ensure good governance that makes it easier for retirees to access their monthly pension.
â€“Omokwe wrote in from Abujaâ€‹