As the APC led government of President Muhammadu Buhari intensifies effort to rid Nigeria free of corruption, some government functionaries seem not to be happy with the fight because they want to continue to siphon public funds for their personal aggrandisement rather than applying them to what they are budgeted for.
Recently, a civil society group Movement for Transparency and Corruption Watch (MTCWN) expressed dismay over the fraudulent manner at which the present management of Pension Transition Arrangement Department (PTAD) in connivance with Office of the Accountant General of the Federation are diverting pensions fund meant for pensioners on its platform.
Some of the agencies whose funds pension funds are under the control of PTAD are Civil Service Pension, Police Pension, Customs, Immigrations and Prison Pension, Pensions of Treasury Funded Parastatals and Universities.
According to records, PTAD was established in accordance with Section 30 (2) of the Pensions Reform Act 2004 and as amended in the PRA 2014, Section 42, charged with the management of the old pension known then as Defined Benefit Scheme (DBS); for pensioners who retired on or before June 2007 and are not part of the new contributory scheme. It took off in August 2013, nine years after the Act establishing it due to resistance from the erstwhile pension offices.
Raising the alarm, the leader of the civil society group, Comrade Adah Samuel Inyada lamented bitterly as saying, “We are very worried about the current development in the Pensions Transition Arrangement Department and that why we are calling government not to relent in its effort to putting an end to corruption in public service. Government must ensure that those who work hard in honesty are rewarded rather than vilified and victimized, this would encourage people to give their best for their country. “
“Before the coming on board of PTAD, the system was poorly managed with inadequate regulatory oversight, grossly underfunded with a deficit of over N2 trillion, pensioners were experiencing difficulty in accessing their pay and the system was nothing but a national embarrassment manifested by public outcry, over documented pension fraud and fund looting, mistreatment of pensioners, lack of credible database despite continuous annual verification exercises, absence of credible and transparent pension payment platform, leading to bloated payroll and accumulated liabilities as well as increased backlog of pension liabilities that were escalating on daily basis.”
According to observers, it is on record that since November 2013 when PTAD effectively took over payments, pensioners receive their monthly benefits electronically through the Central Bank of Nigeria. Within only two years of its operation, PTAD under the astute leadership of Nellie Mayshack, has reversed the ugly experience of pensioners and cleaned the system of the corrupt practices that has hitherto prevented genuine pensioners from receiving their money regularly. Of course many pensioners today can testify to the fact that PTAD has sanitized and sensitized the pensions under its management, brought tranquillity to pensions, restored dignity to pensioners and regained public trust.
They noted that the agency was able to restored the sanctity of pension funds through the use of direct electronic payments to pensioners ‘accounts, while pension funds are safe in the treasury without any case of fraud and has also institutionalized a viable and transparent pension system that is devoid of fraud.
Fraud and corruption were endemic and the system had declined to a state of rot, payments were opaque, slow, irregular and manual, leading to errors and were performed by unmotivated and uncaring staff.
However, they further observed that in addition to the safety of pension funds in the treasury, PTAD has also logged huge savings for the Federal Government in tens of billions and only recently, reported N7 billion savings in five months that otherwise would have disappeared into insurance companies/underwriters. The inherited payrolls have reduced as it recently removed 3,000 ghost pensioners from police pension, more than 1,500 from Paramilitary pension and a list of 120 fraudsters on Civil Service pension has also been reported to ICPC.
Anticorruption Watch lamented that despite the achievements and transformation in PTAD, “some persons who in their own myopic thinking see public funds as free money, are not happy with the development because they could not longer have free access to the funds as such they have waged war against anybody introducing a policy that would prevent them from looting public fund. “
On his part, the some said “These cankerworms that are eating deep into the fabric of the Nigerian treasury are often described as powerful interests, ghost forces or powerful forces. We are absolutely against those ‘powerful forces’ that are bent at nothing than to bring to disrepute the transformation of the pension system in PTAD spearheaded by Nellie Mayshack.
These corrupt elements had from the onset never embrace the establishment of PTAD because they wanted to continue to feed fat on the pension funds. We are aware of the still opposition the agency and its management staff are confronted with. Some government agencies with stakes in pensions, petitions and accused PTAD of moving too fast with the consolidation as fake pensioners were delisted from the payroll. Is it now a crime to develop fast in line with technological trend?
They advised that the federal government should in line with the change agenda and anti-corruption war of the APC led government, direct the EFCC, ICPC and other relevant bodies to beam their search lights into the activities of the current Acting Director General of PTAD as it relate to pension funds.
They also decried how the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation deliberately frustrated the effort of the suspended DG of PTAD because of her refusal to allow the powerful interests to have access to the funds as she has succeeded in delisting ghost lists from the payroll. Therefore, it should be investigated to know its relationship with the present DG
Available records indicate the acting DG of PTAD claimed to be paying over 1700 pensioners, against the 900 verified persons while Nellie Mayshack was in charge. Thereby raising the question as to where do the extra 800 persons come from? This fraudulent activities by the present management of the agency should urgently be investigate to avoid mutilation of the successful transformation programmes the agency is known for while the embattled DG was in Office.
There is therefore, the need for other sister agencies that manage pensions funds should copy model being implemented by PTAD to ensure transparency, cost saving and prompt payment of pensions to the beneficiaries.
For government to strengthen the fight against corruption in public offices, Public institutions should be strengthen to guide against ambiguity that allow individuals who oversee the affairs of the organisations making themselves emperor and who see the public treasury as free fund.
Eleojo Augustine wrote from Lokoja, Kogi State