Akintola Benson Oke
It is now common knowledge that the government of Lagos State led by Governor Akinwunmi Ambode fully recognises the enormous value that knowledge and skills training bring to bear on the attainment of the strategic objectives of the government and the public service of Lagos State. Specifically, forward-looking trainings such as this are of paramount importance in ensuring the continuing relevance and effectiveness of organisations.
Also, the Ministry of Establishments, Training and Pensions has always been in the vanguard of advocating for the institutionalisation of essential training programmes that benefit the most strategically-placed officers in the public service. Thus, I am delighted that we are witnessing yet another occasion to demonstrate this noble commitment of the Lagos State Government in terms of challenging officers of LASPEC to re-examine their roles and reimagine the future of this bedrock agency of the Lagos State Public Service.
I will give a historical and statutory overview of LASPEC with a view to stimulating your thoughts and imagination on how the commission can better engage with the present and the future. The Lagos State Pension Commission (LASPEC) was established by the Lagos State Contributory Pension Scheme Law of 2007 as a corporate entity to regulate, supervise and ensure the effective administration of pension matters in the Lagos State Public Service in accordance with the provisions of the Pension Reform Act 2004.
Before the coming into effect of that law, the Federal and State Governments, under the old dispensation, operated the Defined Benefits (DB) Pension Scheme, popularly referred to as the ‘Pay as You Go’(PAYG) scheme. Under this scheme, pension benefits were defined using the vesting scale which relied on the length of service and final emoluments of an employee. The benefits were thus easily calculated by employees. Employees who had spent five to nine years in service were entitled to a lump sum payment referred to as gratuity, whilst those who had spent ten years and more were entitled to both the gratuity and monthly pension payment.
As with the Federal scheme, the State schemes were also fraught with problems such as lack of adequate funding, irregular pension payments and the rigorous exercise of verification of pensioners. In line with modern global changes, the Federal Government on 27th June 2004 changed from the Defined Benefit scheme to the Contributory Pension Scheme with the signing into law of the Pension Reform Act 2004 which set up the National Pension Commission (Pencom) to regulate and supervise the scheme and register the operators of the scheme.
The Lagos State Government, against the background of challenges with the Defined Benefit scheme, also adopted the new Contributory Pension scheme and became the first State in Nigeria to commence the new scheme with the signing into law on19th March 2007 of the Lagos State Pension Reform Law 2007 and eventual commencement in July 2009.
The main objectives of the Lagos State Pension Reform Law are: To assist all persons in the employment of the State Government to save towards their retirement. To ensure that persons who leave or retire from the Public Service of the State receive their terminal or retirement benefits as and when due. To establish a set of rules and regulations for the administration and payment of retirement benefits in the Public Service of the State.
The law also established the group life policy for death benefits of employees, whilst in service, as well as the Retirement Bond for employees with past service benefits and the Redemption Fund from which the liability of the bond payment would be made. The Vision of LASPEC is to provide first class regulatory and supervisory services on pension matters to all stakeholders in the Lagos State Public Service while the mission is to provide exceptional services on pension matters to employees in the Lagos State Public Service.
The Law provides that there shall be 4 (four) specialized divisions in the Commission. These are: 1. Technical; 2. Administration; 3. Inspectorate; and 4. Finance and Investment divisions. The Technical division has developed and issued guidelines for taking advantage of the pension law and for operation as fund and pension administrators. The Administrative division is responsible for the internal day-to-day management of the commission.
The Inspectorate division oversees the third-party stakeholders while the Finance department is responsible for making and recommending investment decisions to the board of the commission. This training will elaborate on these divisions with a view to examining how to reposition them for more effectiveness and relevance in the future.
Furthermore, this training will also highlight the specific methods through which the commission executes its mandate with a view to challenging participants to re-imagine how these mandates can be re-tooled to make LASPEC more relevant and effective in the future . Some of these include: Education & Information dissemination. LASPEC organises series of Retirement Benefit Documentation Seminars in collaboration with the State’s approved 10 Pension Fund Administrators and five Insurance companies for workers who would soon retire from the Civil Service. The main objective of the Seminar is to educate prospective retirees on steps they need to take to facilitate the quick processing of their terminal entitlements.
Regular inspection tour to Parastatals of Government. The Commission carries out regular compliance inspection of Parastatals in the State with a view to ensuring compliance with the provisions of the Pension Law of 2007. These inspectoral visits are designed to ensure that the monthly deductions from employees’ salaries and employer’s contributions are remitted into the respective Retirement Savings Accounts of the employees.
The Customer Familiarization Index (CFI).
Lagos State was the first state government to proactively prepare her workers for the opening of the transfer window which enables a contributor to port from one PFA to another. In collaboration with the PFAs, and in line with regulations issued by Pencom, LASPEC captured the data of pension contributors. This initiative ensured: alignment with the global best practices in the Pension Industry; removal of any duplication that may arise in the transfer windows; and the creation of unique identification for contributors.
Interactive Voice Response (IVR). Furtherance to the Commission’s mission to provide exceptional services on pension matters to employees in the Lagos State Public Service, it has come up with a 24/7 Help Desk. Enquiries are promptly attended to in English, Yoruba and Pidgin depending on choice by the customer.
Continuous sensitization of retirees on the activity of scammers. The Commission engages in the continuous sensitization of retirees on the activities of pension fraudsters. This has resulted in the drastic reduction of the malaise of fraud in the system. Employees Retirement Evaluation System (ERES). The Lagos State Pension Commission introduced the ERES to aid and facilitate the benefit payment process. This state of the art, sharp-edged robust software called Employees Retirement Evaluation System has automated the process of computing the past service benefits of retirees of Lagos state with minimal human intervention and zero percentage error rate.
Electronic Archiving /Retiree Document Management System. Lagos State Pension Commission as one of the trail blazing agencies of the Lagos State Government has initiated and perfected electronic Archiving of records of payments made to retirees of the state for preservation and protection of records in case of any unexpected events.