From Uche Usim, Abuja
Since she was appointed the Executive Secretary, Pensions Transition Arrangement Directorate (PTAD) by President Muhammadu Buhari in September 2016, Mrs Sharon Ikeazor sleeps and wakes up with thoughts and strategies on how genuine pensioners can get their entitlements from government with less hassle
To this end, she began aggressive biometric verification of the retirees in the six geo-political zones of the country.
This involves going to strategic locations within various states where the pensioners can come with their credentials and then be captured into an electronic database for quicker and accurate payment of their entitlements.
This singular technological initiative has weeded out thousands of ghost pensioners and saved the government billions of naira that would have fraudulently exited its coffers into private pockets.
Ikeazor, at a recent pension stakeholders’ forum in Abuja also disclosed that the agency has recovered about N16 billion in Legacy Pension Funds and Assets (LPFA).
The PTAD boss hinted that the chunk of the funds were from National Insurance Corporation of Nigeria (NICON).
She noted that PTAD staff have been trained to manage pensioners’ enquiries as it regards seeking to get their entitlements, even as she stressed that none of them is to demand any form of gratification before, during and after discharging his/her duties.
Ikeazor has also advised pensioners to make themselves available during any verification exercise, adding that those who miss such openings can always go to any of its offices across the country to get captured or handle other pension matters.
She also warned them to be wary of fraudsters masquerading as pension consultants and experts hunting for gullible pensioners to defraud of their hard-earned emoluments.
In this interview conducted during the recent verification of pensioners in Lagos, Ikeazor talks more about PTAD’s programmes and the plight of pensioners.
Payment of pensioners
That is why I was appointed as PTAD Executive Secretary in the first instance. To ensure government pensioners are captured in our biometric database after checking their documents and then pay them promptly. It is a call to duty. Pensioners are our fathers, mothers, uncles, aunts and so on. Putting pensioners first is putting Nigeria first. That is even the theme of our stakeholders’ conference.
All sectors have been paid their 33 percent arrears except the Police Force. The paramilitary has been paid 100 percent of their arrears.
We did that via our computerised pension payrolls after full biometric capturing. It remains the way forward as it would ensure regular payment between 25th and 30th of every month.If you come to our office, you will see the total number of people and how much we are paying; every month we pay N7.5 billion. We have 257,000 pensioners presently in our databse. Civil service and parastatals’ verification is in progress. Verification has been completed in the Southeast, Northwest, Northeast as well as South-South zones. We are working hard in ensuring that the verification process is wrapped up in the Southwest. In Lagos alone, we have 21,295 eligible civil service pensioners for verification under the Defined Benefit Scheme.
We are working closely with the Office of the Account General of the Federation (OAGF) and Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to improve the economic livelihood of the pensioners via prompt payments.
To curb corruption and enhance transparency, PTAD has set up a full- fledged Anti Corruption and Transparency (ACTU). The unit currently handles issues relating to fraud and pension scam.
Any staff caught in this nefarious act or conniving with scammers will be severely dealt with according to the laws. All what we do here must be transparent. We are also partnering with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) on the anti-corruption crusade and also ensure our operations run smoothly.
What we have discovered is that once pensioners hear federal government is holding an exercise, they will come here thinking is for everybody. So, we have local government retirees who are not entitled to federal pension coming thinking they will be captured. Though we are sympathetic, we still have to follow them cautiously. States are responsible for state pensioners, they collected bail out funds and Paris Club refund running into billions, what have they done with it? And every month, states come to federal to collect allocations. State governments are responsible for local government and states pensions while the federal government is responsible for only the central and federal pensioners. Therefore, you cannot expect the federal government to bear the burdens of local governments pensions. Despite the announcement and publicity on the requirements, some of them thought the verification included local government people.
I always wish the state governments will take a cue from what PTAD is doing. If they do this biometric exercise in their states, they will know the number of pensioners they have, they will know their liabilities and be able to budget and meet them.
It is doable, it’s not as big as what they are saying; how many pensioners do they have and how many workers compared to the whole federal? So, if the federal can do it successfully, they can do it as well.
Besides, federal permanent secretaries, heads of service and all that are on Contributory Defined Benefit Scheme. Until PENCOM sorts out their data before we’ll move them back.
We inherited a payroll that was not tidy,but we are cleaning up the system. In the course of doing this our verification, we have seen people who are in grade level two and are earning over N190,000 in a month! How much was their salary in a month when they were in service? So, these are some of the fraud and we are cleaning it gradually.
That tells you that the old scheme is actually good but I think the new scheme works better because the old scheme means more burden on the government but the new one, the employees are made to contribute out of their salaries as well because government cannot bear the burdens alone. The old scheme is that, you are guaranteed your pension by government, so government bears the full liability. The old scheme, which stated in 2007, is expected to last between 35 and 40 years.
Death of pensioners
That’s where we work closely with pension unions. Since I came in, I’ve seen several letters that certain banks will write notifying us of the death of the account holder who is a pensioner. Even this morning, a family member wrote notifying me of the death of her brother. So, when I get this notifications, I send it to relevant department; be it civil service or police or parastatal and they now take the person off the payroll.
Yes! The issue of staff being involved in shady deals is handled by EFCC. Again, we are working hand in hand with the Bureau of Public Service Reforms (BSPR) so that we put proper checks and balances in place on how to manage a government agency. The people working here know that there has to be some confidentiality because what we do here is very very sensitive.
We have also done some realignment internally.
I hardly talk about challenges because there is always a way through it. That is why I am here. I need to surmount challenges and once we have the passion to do what we’ve to do, we’ll do it.
At the completion of the PTAD verification exercise, the Federal Government will be able to estimate its monthly pension liabilities under the DBS more accurately to aid annual budgeting and resource allocation. It will also help ascertain government’s financial savings from pension payments. Another thing it seeks to achieve is to develop policies based on a consolidated view of the DBS pension sector and finally, the verification will help access accurate data and profiles of pensioners after completion of verification.
PTAD is tackling and resolving pensioners’ complaints by improving the complaint management system for effective tracking and resolution of complaints. We’ve also established state offices to ensure that pensioners do not travel far to make a complaint. We have reactivated the PTAD toll free line for pensioners to use at no cost to them. Complaint forms have also been made available on our website for completion or download.