Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State has revealed how the state government uncovered fraud in pension administration in the state, saying while some pensioners were unable to get their gratuities, others had two vouchers in their names.
He has, therefore, ordered the scrapping of the State Pensions Board and that a Bureau will be created to oversee the payment of pensions just as he announced that the government will immediately key into Contributory Pensions Scheme as a way to stem the incidences of fraud in pension payment.
The governor has, however, assured that within two weeks, local government pensioners will get paid as steps have been taken to ensure that henceforth, regardless of the amount of money accruing to local governments, they make provisions for the payment of local government pensioners.
Oshiomhole who has already sent the State Head of Service, Mr Jerry Obazele and Permanent Secretary, Information and Communications Technology Agency, Mr Dan Aigbavboa, on retirement and directed members of the State Pensions Board to report to the State Civil Service Commission for proper investigation and disciplinary action in accordance with the Civil Service Rules said: “Government is aware that quite a number of our senior citizens, particularly the ones who were in the employment of the local governments, covered by the Local Government Pensions Board, for some reasons have not received their pension for a couple of months.
“I need to make the point clear, because when I see their comments, it seems to state that the state government is responsible for the payment of their pensions.
“It is true that state government has some level of responsibility to supervise and watch over the conduct of local governments. However, the local governments remain the 3rd tier of government and their roles and responsibilities are fully spelt out in the constitution.
“Since I assumed office, Edo State government under my stewardship has never and will never interfere with the funds of local governments.
“However, following the recent sharp drop in the revenue accruing to the local governments from the federation account, many of our local governments found out that after providing for payment of teachers salary, which we consider first line charge, what they have left was hardly enough to meet their salary obligations.
LG pensioners to get first line charge
“In the process, some of them are accumulating salary arrears. Of course, they also were not able to meet their pension obligations and as a result, the pensioners under the Local Government Pension Board for several months have not received their pensions.
“We have addressed this issue exhaustively and the Commissioner of Local Government has been directed to liaise with the Accountant-General of the State to ensure that henceforth, regardless of the amount of money accruing to local government, they must make provision for the payment of local government pensioners’ money. We must show respect to our senior citizens.
“So, over the next one or two weeks, I have had a conversation with the local government chairmen, and we have agreed that we will cause the ICT to assist them to clean up the pensioners’ list to ensure that only genuine pensioners are paid. I am convinced that this intervention will ensure that never again will our pensioners find that they are not able to receive their pensions.
“So, I want to appeal to our pensioners to appreciate that no one derives any comfort in watching our pensioners, months on end without receiving pension. As a former president of the Nigerian Labour Congress, I believe the pensioner deserves his wage and Edo State government will never do anything that will bring hardship to our senior citizens.
“For those who are in the employment of Edo State government, I also recognize that we have had huge problems, particularly with the payment of gratuity. As I am sure, people will recall, by the time I assumed office in November, 2008, we had people who had been dismissed in thousands by the previous PDP government that laid off thousands of workers including all the permanent secretaries in 1999 and even some that were laid off during military administration of Baba Nyam.
“So, by the time I assumed office on November 12, 2008, some of our senior citizens who had retired from Edo State Civil Service for over a period of 10 years, 11 years, 12 years and some even 13 years had not received their pensions.
“But like I have often said, my attitude has been that the responsibility of government is to find solution, not to lament what has gone wrong and accordingly, we have put in place, a policy that enables us on a monthly basis to make provisions to liquidate these accumulated pension gratuities so that these pensioners can enjoy their gratuity here on earth.
“We have made some progress in this regard and the result is that we have paid off gratuities of pensioners who have turned up, up to 2010. I am concerned about the plight of pensioners and I am determined to do something about it.
How fraud was uncovered
“I encouraged the Head of Service to give me a clear view concerning what our liabilities are in regards to accumulated pension gratuities. I was given some numbers and my task is to find the resources to provide for these numbers.
“However, in the course of trying to establish the details of what makes up these numbers, the names of the pensioners, their date of appointment, date of retirement, their salary at the point of retirement, the number of years of service which taken together are the basis for computation of gratuity, I discovered a huge gap between what the Head of Service had told me we owe and what they now generate for us to pay.
“Following some interrogations, the Pensions Board along with some officers in the Information and Communication Technology Agency had generated three versions of what our pension liabilities are. The result is that I had difficulty as to which of these versions to believe. My intention therefore to ensure that at least, a substantial number of people who were waiting for their gratuities got paid before my 7th anniversary was dashed because the data which we need to effect payment had been compromised.
“Consequently, we have had to invite some seasoned external auditors to prepare afresh, look at the pension documents papers and prepare a fresh voucher to enable us address this issue of accumulated gratuity benefits.
“Their intervention has been quite revealing. It shows that the Pension Board has been riddled with fraud. Cases have now been established in which one person has two vouchers, same date of birth, same first name, same surname, everything the same and two original vouchers for one pensioner. We have also discovered cases of people who ought to have been paid their gratuities in full in one slot, many have been paid on installment basis in a manner that lend itself to fraud and manipulations.
“The implication of all of these is that we have had to go afresh to construct a more reliable data to enable us deal with this corruption.
Edo keys into contributory pension scheme
“Consequently, we have decided to take a number of measures. First, to immediately give effect to the new contributory pension fund which will put an end to the unfunded pension regime that had prevailed over this period. The House of Assembly has since amended the law, adjusted the rate of contribution to bring it in line with the practice at the Federal level and the trade unions, have all agreed on this scheme and we have all agreed that we should start the implementation immediately.
“This of course will lead to additional cost burden on government but it is a burden that no government can run away from and we are ready to take it on board.
Pension board scrapped, fraud to be probed
“Having seen the amount of fraud involved in the pension board, we have decided to abolish the pension board and create a Bureau to be manned by technical people who are competent and also people of character and re-organize the ICT in a way that will ensure that we have data that cannot be violated or compromised.
“And all those involved in this chain, in the pension board, not only will they be suspended, the police will continue investigation in the light of the fraud that have been established and based on the Civil Service rules, they will be dealt with according to the rules. For those who are political appointees, over the next 24 hours, government will make a decision as to what to do with them.
“However, I want to assure our pensioners that from tomorrow, we will begin to advertise, to encourage the pensioners to assemble at an agreed location where they will be verified and their faces, names and documents reconciled with the new data that have been prepared by these external auditors. Once they are cleared, they will get their payment on the basis of first to retire, first to be paid.
“Never again will people on the basis of their connection in government or manipulations or through corrupt tendencies have people who retired later get paid before those who retired earlier. I believe this will bring some relief to our civil servants before Christmas.”