Pensioners threaten mass action over 6 years unpaid benefits

…as PenCom fumes over moves to exclude paramilitary from CPS

By Victor Ahiuma-Young & Emmanuel Elebeke

FEDERAL Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development’s pensioners have threatened mass action over their unpaid pensions and other entitlements for the past six years. This is as the National Pension Commission, PenCom, is fuming over ongoing moves to exclude paramilitary organisations including the police from the Contributory Pension Scheme, CPS.

A bill seeking to amend the Pension Reform Act, 2014 to exclude members of the Nigeria Police, the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps and Nigeria Customs Service, NSCDC, from CPS had on May 16, 2017, passed the second reading on the floor of the House of Representatives.

The bill, sponsored by Mr. Oluwole Oke, is also seeking to exempt the Nigerian Prison Service, NPS, Nigerian Immigration Service, NIS, and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, from the scheme.

A cross section of pensioners

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Meanwhile, in a protest letter addressed to the permanent secretary in the ministry signed by the Union Chairman, Ihuoma C, the Pensioners are seeking an audience with the heads of the ministry, warning that failure to accede to their request would force them to embark on an industrial protest.

In the letter, they appealed for payment of their benefits by Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development from 2012 to date, lamenting that nothing had been done to effect the payment after several appeals.

“We are alone in this predicament as we understand other ministries have paid their retirees the repatriation allowance and this has made life difficult for us. We also wish to inform you what happened to the retired officers in other ministries like the Federal Capital Development Authority, Abuja who were given plots of land to develop as a form of compensation for serving the nation meritoriously.

“We wish to suggest that the ministry can adopt its own welfare scheme for their retirees by offering starter packs as a ministry of agriculture for those who have gone into farming which we believe will enhance our income and improve our living standards in the retirement’s life,” the letter reads.

They also demanded that middle cadre staff in the ministry be given opportunity to serve as consultants on retirement as was done to directors, deputy directors and assistant directors to boost their moral, adding that they would not hesitate to embark on protest should the minister and permanent secretary failed to heed to their request.

On the moves to exclude paramilitary organisations including the police from CPS, the Acting Director-General of PenCom, Mrs. Aisha Dahir-Umar, said in Abeokuta that the exclusion of the paramilitary organisations from CPS would not augur well for the officers and men of the outfits.

Dahir-Umar who spoke at the 2017 Annual Retreat organised by Pension Operators (PenOp) comprising 21 Pension Funds Administrators, PFAs, and four Pension Custodians contended that their exemption would impact negatively on the country’s economy.

Speaking through the Head, Research and Corporate Strategy Department of PenCom, Dr. Farouk Aminu, the acting DG said: “The attention of the commission has been drawn to a bill currently before the House of Representatives seeking to amend the Pension Reform Act of 2014 . Despite the position of the Federal Government that further exemption of its agencies from CPS should be stopped, the House continued. The bill have dire consequences not only on the pension reform, but on the other reforms of governments.

“The Nigerian Pension Industry through PenOp and PenCom remains the model in African countries such as Malawi, Tanzania, Ghana and Uganda that still come to understudy us. The Federal government further issued a white paper saying it will be unable to sustain pension payments under defined benefits pension schemes and directed that only the military intelligence and the state security services may withdraw from the contributory scheme.”

She argued that the Federal Government was already overburdened with the payment of pensions as reflected in the 2016 Appropriation Act. According to her, about N200 billion was appropriated in the Act as pensions and gratuities which is still insufficient to fund pension liabilities of government.

The acting PenCom DG said: “For instance, the 2016 Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate’s, PTAD, total budget proposal indicated a total annual pension liability of the sum of N388.3 billion. Out of the amount, the sum of N255.8 billion constituted unfunded liabilities which was inherited by PTAD mostly due to outstanding payments for 33 per cent arrears to pensioners under the Defined Benefits Scheme. PTAD had indicated that there had been no provision for unfunded liabilities in the past which now forms part of its core obligations.”

Dahir-Umar, however, noted that the Nigeria Police pension scheme had recorded some progress

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