Pension Fraud: What about the pensioners? By Issa Aremu

The miserable conditions of pensioners in were hitherto discussed in terms delayed payments of benefits, poorly coordinated verification exercises and huge arrears of entitlements. It is a truism that Pensioners in Nigeria truly constitute the new non-working poor whose gratuities and terminal benefits are either denied or paid to no one even when they are already dead. Ongoing serial, televised revelations of alleged pension frauds in the Federal Civil Service and Police pension Commission in billions (of) Naira of deferred  pensioners’ payments are the latest in the ugliest profiling of the pension crisis. The latest pension scam    has shown that retirees’ worsening plight is another fall out of the country’s worsening corruption crisis. President Jonathan must urgently intervene to save the nation’s pensioners in the public sector from their existing continuous income poverty not because pensioners had not worked hard for the raining days but because few notable official criminals are looting pension funds. Ongoing accusations and counter accusations of bribery, plain theft and fraud between some Directors of Police Pension Board and some senators on one hand, and fraud-star words-exchange between the Senate joint committee on Establishment and Public Service and states and local governments, and Pension Reform Task Team, (PRTT), headed by AbdulRasheed Maina on the other hand over N2billion bribe shows that Pension matters are too important and too fundamental to be left in the hands of Pension reform taskforce team and the senate committee.

President Goodluck Jonathan therefore has the constitutional duty to apprehend pension theft and deepen the pension reform to ensure pensioners are adequately paid as at when due. Notwithstanding his perceived selective anti-corruption drive, President Obasanjo in 2005 offered leadership to decisively remove a Minister of Education on allegation of bribery in education sector. The late President Yar Adua also promptly apprehended corruption in the health sector in millions of naira. President Jonathan must come out and deal decisively with the reported public Pension thefts reportedly in billions of Naira, failing which the labour movement has a duty to ensure perpetual protection of pension funds through legitimate mass protests. Corruption agenda has sadly replaced development agenda in dangerous full cycle ; from power sector, education sector, health sector, sports now to pension. Pension sector corruption is not just an economic crime. Theft of terminal benefits of our heroes of labour past must be seen as a treasonable crime. Taking terminal benefits of millions of pensioners, (which are far from being enough to sustain long life expectancy) amounts to burying the future of the existing workforce and mass early burials of the current pensioners.

It is unacceptable to see pension funds suspects smiling to “trials” over looted billions stashed in private bank accounts and illegal private properties laundering, while we see miserable, old, fragile and weak Pensioners being compelled to travel long distances for official ‘verification’ and ‘re-verification. Every working man and woman, including President and governors must get fatigue one day. Hence the need to prepare for the proverbial raining days by setting aside some funds that will at least meet the subsistence needs of the aged workers.  With the collapse of the extended family support and traditional values of historic care and concern for the aged especially since the beginning of notorious structural adjustment, every active and young worker today can only ignore the issue of pension scheme at the instance of his/her sustenance after work. Pension is therefore a legitimate right of workers.  It is a deferred payment, which both the workers and employers must set aside so that workers at old age will not be living on some charity as if they are destitute.    The bane of public sector pension lies in its non-contributory character. The pension scheme is still regulated by obsolete Pensions Act of 1979. Precisely, because it is non-contributory, public servants are not required to contribute any financial sum into the schemes.  Conversely it is assumed that somebody would devote some funds for the scheme which is increasingly not so.  Until Public Pension Scheme is made to be contributory, it will be treated as no man’s business depending on the whims and caprices of government officials. Contributory scheme is clearly more sustainable.  For one, it will be free from recurring government budget crisis (or is it budget confusion?).  Secondly, workers and their unions will have more interest to manage the scheme they freely contribute into when they are at work rather than living it until they are out of work and thus prevent the current outright robbery of the fund.  The way we eventually resolve the existing pension crisis puts to test our real commitment to welfare of the citizenry, poverty eradication and even anti-corruption campaign.  The monumental fraud in the old moribund pension system again raises the debate about the superiority of the new 2004 Contributory pension scheme to the old deferred benefits scheme. Latest fraud revelations show that the old system is open to unrestrained fraudulent criminal abuses. With all the challenges, the new contributory pension system has in built check and balances with established institutions and above all distinct but complimentary functions of Pension Fund Custodians (PFC), Pension Fund Administrators (PFAs) and the regulatory agency; PenCom which are professionally run to manage funds. It is commendable that the new scheme under the regulatory agency; PENCOM managed by M K Ahmad in the last 8 years safeguarded a trillion Naira pension assets that are immune from pension marauders of the old public scheme. The challenge is for the federal government to deepen the current pension reform, strengthen the regulatory role of PENCOM and upgrade the sanctions procedure for non-compliance with the 2004 pension Act. The pension Act contributory coverage must be made to be truly universal. President Jonathan must halt the pressures by agents of pension fund theft for a return to the old discredited non- contributory unaccountable fraud prone scheme.

Issa Aremu ([email protected])

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