Uche Usim, Abuja
Dr Chioma Ejikeme, the Executive Secretary of the Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (PTAD), is a tested technocrat.
On assumption of duty late August this year, she rolled up her sleeves to embrace the challenges of the job, which included ensuring the regular payment of retirees’ entitlements.
Right now, the agency is embarking on a project tagged “I’m alive” for government pensioners under its care to ensure ghost retirees are not retained on its payroll.
She said: “Before now, government money was kept in commercial banks which you could access.
“Now, such money is in CBN vault under the TSA arrangement. We use a code to access each of you and ensure CBN credits you. We don’t physically see your money but electronically. In this interview with Daily Sun on the sidelines a recent verification exercise in Abuja, the PTAD boss assured pensioners that the Buhari administration is totally committed to making life meaningful to them.
She speaks more on PTAD and pensioners.
The minimum wage thing is a given. Salaries and wages Commission will get back to us to let us know what percentage is accruable to pensioners. We’ve made provision for that in 2020 budget.
Experience so far
I think it has been a good experience. PTAD is really working hard. We have very qualified staff who are very hardworking and trying to correct the mistakes of the past, so what we are trying to do is to get the eligible pensioners; people who are supposed to be on our data base and make sure they get their monthly pensions. Some of them we are owing them arrears and all of that, it’s also through this exercise that we are able to clarify because we look at their papers and we are able to verify their claims.
The verification exercise is just like a phase to verify, to know who are actually the eligible pensioners. By virtue of what we are doing, we are taking care of senior citizens so even if they are eligible pensioners, some people along the road would drop off people would die. So, we want to get to know who actually are our eligible pensioners, who would have dropped off our pension table and there are a lot of issues as well, issues of arrears, payroll, people who are underpaid, people who are overpaid. So, we are here to harmonise everything and make sure that every eligible pensioner are getting their due.
It’s been a good exercise and at the end of this verification (because we haven’t completed it) and we complete at least we would give a lead period before we can give you information because there are some people who for one reason or the other would not be able to be part of this verification so we can’t immediately declare them ghost until a period we are sure that we are able to sort out this our database out.
This is the completion for all the departments.
After this, we have to clean up our database. Just like what you’re talking about, we have to get things well adjusted then begin to look at verification going forward because you know these people are pensioners, they are senior citizens. We will all depart one day in the future and when they depart, they are not supposed to be on our payroll, so we have to work out how we would be able to detect technologically that they’ve departed by getting them to get themselves verified at their convenience with what we call the “I am alive” project
We’re also carrying next of kin along. In fact, a next of kin was asking whether they’re part of what we are here for and I said yes they are cause. We’ve been taking care of them (the next of kin of deceased pensioner) and we’ve been paying them their entitlement and all of that.
Procedure for getting verified
First of all, you have to get some certain documents. For instance, we are interested in your letter of first appointment, letter of confirmation of appointment , letter of last promotion, letter of retirement. So, when you bring all these things, you now go through the process. People at the data entry and data recording section would look at what you have written and all of that. From there, you go to biometrics, from there you go through quality assurance, from there the checkers go through it, from there auditing. So, it’s quite a very comprehensive process. And then they get a computation and the kind of software we have now the computation is done right here on the field; so immediately we are able to know what the pensioner is going to get assuming we are owing arrears or anything it would immediately show with the software.
We carried out a two-week pension verification exercise in the North-West with the capturing of 11,335 government retirees.
The exercise commenced on September 23, 2019 and ended on October 4, 2019.
There were four centres located in Arewa House and Dakhole Angels Multipurpose Centre Kaduna, Marhaba Event Place, Kano, and Hidima Conference Centre, Bodinga Road, Sokoto.
A total of 11,335 parastatal pensioners were verified. The
breakdown of the numbers verified shows Kaduna Centre 1 had the highest number of 4,073 followed by Kaduna Centre 2 with 3, 170 pensioners. Kano Centre had 2,739 and Sokoto Centre had 1,353.
In line with PTAD’s tradition, the pensioners were treated with respect and empathy. The exercise was conducted in a conducive environment where Pensioners were also provided with lunch and medical facility to take care of any emergencies.
The legislators were at the verification centres to monitor the exercise. The Senate Committee Chairman on Establishment and Public Service, Sen. Ibrahim Shekarau was at Kano centre. Hon. Kabiru Alhassan Rurum, House Committee Chairman on Pensions was at the Kano and Kaduna Centres. Sen. Mpigi Barinada, Dep. Chairman, Senate Committee on Establishment and Public Service was at the Kaduna Centre.
Hon. Bamidele Salam, Dep. Chairman, House committee on Pensions was at the Sokoto Centre. They gave PTAD excellent remarks and promised to support the Directorate with necessary appropriation.
The military have their own pension box. They are not part of this pension box, this is for parastatal pensioners.
Welfare of pensioners
We are thinking about adding them to the national health insurance scheme. Like you rightly said, the former ES started making the moves and we are also continuing with the moves and we are working on it but the first thing first let us get our database right so that we would even know who we are catering for because when we are going to do the health insurance it’s a number thing. How many people are you bringing on? How much is it per person? So, you would want to be sure it’s the right people that you’re bringing onto that platform. So, the minute we get our data right and get it cleaned up, we already have a process in place that we are trying to put up something for that. So, when we get it sorted out, we would definitely let you know.
As a medical doctor myself, I appreciate the need for that.
Once you age, there is degeneration of the body and your pocket gets thinner and you can no longer spend as much as you spent when younger were younger and working.
So, that is why we are taking the welfare of pensioners very seriously. We will work closely with the unions on this.
33% pension arrears
We have a 33% pension arrears to pay and we are just waiting for funds. As soon as the funds are made available, we would pay.
There’s still continuous verification going on in our office. Everyday, we are verifying pensioners who come in at their convenience so in the event that they even miss this they can come to our office and we would get them verified.
PTAD has secured federal government’s approval to pay the outstanding 24 months of the 33% pension arrears. Once there is backing, the money will hit their accounts. We pray it happens soon, even before the end of the year.
For this administration, pensioners and their next of kin are a priority.
We have been paying the next of kin of verified pensioners and we will continue to pay.
Mr President is a pensioner, so is the Minister of Finance that releases the money and myself. We feel what pensioners feel. These ex-workers spent their active years serving Nigeria. We can’t abandon them at old age. The government cares. However, resources of government has been dwindling. We have to ensure this verification is thoroughly done to weed out ghost pensioners.