Pensioners’ Pains Continue, Even With Reforms
YES, it is a change of government, but not a change in fortune for them. They gave their yesterday for a today that has scorned them. They are pensioners, but still waiting for their pension. Though, it’s been more than 100 days in office for President Muhammadu Buhari, it is not yet dawn for these senior citizens.
Only recently, the National Union of Pensioners (NUP) noted that many of its members are dying as a result of unpaid pensions that run into billions of Naira. The union lamented the non-inclusion of pension payment in the bailout received from the Federal Government by states to pay salaries. The Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (PTAD), however, has said that about N218b will be needed to settle the pension arrears at once.
While the union commended the release of the bailout by the Federal Government, it appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari to direct the state governments to also settle all pensioners owed from the bailout.
The General Secretary of NUP, Elder Actor Zal, charged Federal Government to release the arrears to the PTAD to enable quick settlement of the arrears.
He added: “The Federal Government should release the sum of N218b needed by Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (PTAD) to clear all those backlog of unpaid pension at once.”
He added, “we appeal to the federal government to do same to all pensioners in the country who are being owed backlog arrears of their pensions. Especially, the 42 months arrears of the 33 per cent pension increase, gratuities and death benefits of federal pensioners across the country.”
Indeed, for pensioners in Nigeria, payment of pension by various tiers of government has been tortuous and un-encouraging. Before the advent of the contributory pension scheme, in 2004, consequent upon the passage of the Pension Reform Act 2004, the pay-as-you-go scheme was fraught with irregularities and corruption that led to the death of pensioners, even while on the queues to collect their pensions.
The passage of the Act was, therefore, seen as a stop-shop that would solve the challenge. However, 11 years down the lane, the implementation of the scheme has shown that indeed, it has its own challenge.
The two major challenges, among other minor hitches and misunderstandings, that have characterised the scheme, is the meagre amount pensioners go home with at the end of every month and danger non-payment of salaries has on pension. In addition to these challenges, is the unwillingness of private sector and state governments to participate in the reformed pension scheme.
Recently, the Managing Director of Trustfund Pension Plc., Mrs. Helen Da-Souza, said the non-participation of states, as well as irregularity in the payment of salaries are emerging as formidable challenge to the scheme.
Delivering a paper at an Nigeria Labour Congess (NLC) leadership retreat in Calabar, Cross River State, titled, Organized Labour and Contributory Pension Scheme: Experience From Field (with particular reference to the states and private sector), Da-Souza said less than 10 state governments are currently implementing the scheme.
She also said that state governments whose contributory pension scheme laws were passed over five years ago, are also yet to commence full implementation, while many others have not even made any meaningful effort to introduce pension scheme for their workers.
While stressing that there are still misgivings, misconceptions and apprehensions about the CPS, the Trustfund boss blamed knowledge gap and ignorance about how the system works for the unhealthy development.
She said, “some employees are unwilling to register under the scheme, even when their employers are willing to make contribution for them. Some employees attribute their apathy to some delays experienced in the payment of benefits claims of some of their retired or disengaged colleagues. We work hard at allying these fears during our interactive sessions, which provide a platform for employees to ventilate their concerns.”
The Guardian gathered that in the course of implementing the contributory pension scheme since 2004, negligence of details by pensioners has caused delays in payment.
Customers Relationship Management Officer in Trustfund, Mrs. Maha Longe, reiterated the importance of regular data updates.
Longe stated that incorrect data would lead to delay in the payment of entitlement, when they eventually retire, saying, “if they don’t check and ensure their data is correct now and rather wait till when they retire, unremitted funds will delay their payment upon their retirement.”
She stressed that the customers’ forum organised for the about-to-retire workers has been very helpful saying it has helped reduce misinformation that abounds in the sector.
Longe stated that Trustfund is now compiling the list of employers that are in the habit of not remitting pension funds for onward transmission to National Pension Commission (Pencom) for sanction, adding, “non-remittance by employers to Pension Fund Administrators (PFAs) is still a major issue, especially, among the private sector. We have no issue at all with the public sector. Employers in the private sector cite so many challenges why they cannot remit.”
She hinted that plans are underway for an all-inclusive stakeholders meeting, where most of the genuine agitations of retirees would be addressed.
On his part, the Regional Manager Abuja of Trustfund, Peter Okonjo, said the customers’ forum has provided an avenue to find out areas of challenges by workers who are about to retire.
He added: “We find that workers always come up with one problem or the other upon retirement and solving the problem at that stage always proves difficult. We then decided to organise this forum to know if there are any problems they may be having so that we can jointly address them with their employers before they exit”.
Pensioners’ reluctance to write their will before death has also been identified as one habit that must be corrected.
Again, Longe argued that, though, no one knows the day of his or her death, unplanned death by breadwinners often leaves immediate family stranded and uncared for when the time to claim pension entitlement comes.
She said obtaining letter of administration, which replaces a will, if not written, is not only becoming more problematic, but also has many associated contradictions.
Her explanation: “The issues associated with death are emerging as ones of the major problems in claiming entitlements of dead retirees. Obtaining letter of administration is more difficult now because it takes two or three years to obtain. Sometimes, some people such as uncles, sisters, mothers and other relations obtain letter of administration before the wife and the family of the demise is stranded with children education stunted most of the time. We want to strongly advise our customers to please write a will when they are still alive so that their family does not suffer when they are gone. Wills will ensure equity among family members when the breadwinner dies. It will spell out in details of who should get what. Writing a will should not be seen as death wish.”
The Guardian gathered that it is not only the states and Federal Government that are owing pensioners, the private sector is also an active participant in the non-payment of pensions.
Retired management, senior and junior staff members of First Bank of Nigeria Plc., under the auspices of First Bank Pensioners Association have also voiced out their frustration.
Recently, the association also stated that it has decided to affiliate with the NUP to tackle the bank over poor attitude of the bank towards the pensioners.
The Chairman of the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the association and retired General Manager of the Bank, Mr. Bulus Dareng, stated in Abuja that the issues affecting pensioners of the bank include the meager salaries being paid to them as pension.
He said: “Our members have been dying and the bank doesn’t care. We helped built this bank to what it is today. A lot of pensioners still receive as little as N10, 000 and N13, 000. This is almost the same amount they were being paid 30 years ago.
“Look at me for instance, after having meritorious service for 35 years and retiring as General management I am ashamed to even tell what I earn as pension.”
Dareng, who retired about 10 years ago, said pension entitlements from First Bank are extremely meagre, and that what he receives as pension is far below what his position upon retirement entitles him to, adding that his colleagues, who retired at his level from sister organisation enjoys better benefits than him.
He stressed that in order for pensioners to receive fair treatment in pension administration and payment, pensioners should be actively involved in the management of their fund, faulting a system where the owners of the funds are kept away from the management, and noting that “that’s the reason frauds are always associated with pension management.”