Beyond Legislative Call

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Adanne Uche

I have asked myself what is it these legislators want? When you harass ministries, departments and agencies of the federal government and ask that sensitive documents be handed over to you within a deadline, is that what they call oversight?

It has become an embarrassing trend to see our federal legislators dramatise their oversight functions, turning it into a witch-hunt and behaving as if the legislature is in opposition to the government of which it is part.

That is the way I see the proposed public hearing on the National Pension Commission (PenCom) by the House of Representatives. An ad-hoc committee set up by the House in December 2018, is expected to investigate alleged “unwholesome practices” by pension administrators in the country.

The proposed probe or investigation has unnerved stakeholders in the pension industry and sent tongues wagging on what is truly the end-game of the legislators. Earlier in the week, there were reports that the committee had written letters to some MDAs, including PenCom and the Central Bank of Nigeria, requesting for sensitive documents and information on pension account holders and operational details of Pension Fund Administrators (PFA).

The worry is not about the necessity or rationale for the probe. It is part of the job of legislators to investigate MDAs under their oversight functions when there is need for such and when doing so could lead to formulation of laws to improve efficiency. The objective of legislative probe is to unearth corrupt practices and make laws for good governance.

The problem is information the committee is requesting Among the information requested by the legislative committee are “The Net Asset Values of the Contributory Pension Funds, details of supervision and regulations of Pension Fund Administrators and their key instructions and performances, compliances and defaults, annual pension operations of all the Pension Fund Administrators (i.e. details of amount collected from contributors and amount being paid out to retirees, from April 2017 till date).”
The Committee also requested for details of investment percentages and profits from the investment of pension funds, and details of the Federal Government contributions to the Federal Government bonds.

More scandalous is the request for the “contributions of retirement savings account holders to Pension Funds Administrators and details of payments from PenCom into the Treasury Single Accounts (TSA) and bank accounts details operated by the Commission.”
Supplying this information to the committee is against the provisions of the Pension Reform Act (PRA) 2014 which forbids the Commission and members of the Commission from disclosing such information. Are the legislators not aware of the law? Or they simply want to blackmail PenCom, CBN and the Ministry of Finance? This is an abuse of legislative powers that could put the pension industry into jeopardy and cause disruptions in the capital market.

The committee’s letter states that the probe would cover from April 2017 till date. The question to ask our legislators is why now? What have they been doing since 2017? Is PenCom, Ministry of Finance and CBN not part of the MDAs the House Committee on Finance or Public Accounts supposed to oversee? How come the ad-hoc committee is asking for all these documents and information now when they’re supposed to have some of them in their custody if they had performed their duties as expected?

The probe begets so many questions and one is at a loss trying to rationalize the House’s decision to conduct such a probe at a time the country is facing another general election. What time do the legislators even have to do thorough investigation when they’re also busy preparing for the elections? This is what soccer fans call ‘injury time’ when there is so much desperation and rush to prevent loss.
Unfortunately, there’s no denying that many of our legislators have not shown much of legislative discipline to promote confidence in their abilities to rise above personal and party interests in the discharge of their duties. In many of the cases where legislators had intervened through official investigation or public hearing, such had been weakened by pursuit of personal gains.

One gets the feeling that legislators use their license not for public good, but for personal profits either in cash, revenge or settling of scores. That’s the only sense I could make from a statement credited to the committee, Ehiozuwa Agbonayinma. He was quoted to have said, in response to a question on the controversy surrounding his request for sensitive documents: “We are not leaving any part untouched as we are going to conduct a thorough investigative hearing that is water-tight.”

Its obvious that this is beyond legislative call. There is an agenda that is not yet clear, and this is what is unsettling the industry. What does the committee want to do with the information and documents requested? How safe and secure would this information be when passed to the committee? It must not be forgotten that pension is also a business, and a significant economic sector that must not be killed on account of some legislative oversight.
These are the questions stakeholders in the industry are asking. There is justifiable fear that the industry is about to be compromised, and this is not good for the sector. The committee has done little to assuage this fear, and instead heightened it through unprofessional rhetoric that smacked of blackmail and intimidation.

Interestingly, the committee has also invited the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC) and all representatives of agencies and institutions of the governing board of PENCOM, and one would like to know what they think about this brazen legislative overkill.

Some stakeholders have also queried the character of the committee which reportedly cleared PenCom management of any wrongdoing, only to do a U-turn weeks later without any convincing explanations. What could have happened to change the mind of the committee? Is the committee doing the bidding of some individuals or interest groups? Of course, answers to these questions are yet unclear and what happens henceforth would shed more light.
Everyone is watching!

Uche writes from Enugu