Since September 2016 when Barrister Sharon Ikeazor, aka (Mama Pension) assumed the Executive Secretary of the Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (PTAD); the verification of pensioners, prompt payment of their entitlements, amongst other achievement have given a facelift to the plight of pensioners in the country. ENE OSANG writes
The verification exercise is a digitized process of capturing pensioners’ biometric data including their photograph and finger prints, scanning of their services records/documents, bank statements, which after collected is stored to a centralized server for easy management of payrolls.
This verification exercise is in contrast with the analogue method of records on pensioners in the past which was usually cumbersome to manage, bringing older citizens to a rigorous experience with a record number of pensioners losing their lives on queues trying to get their rights.
It would be recalled that PTAD was established in August 2013 in line with the provisions of the pension reform act, 2004 to centrally manage the old pension scheme and spearhead the smooth transition of the three offices into a single pension administration and management under the National Pension Commission, PENCOM.
The purpose it was established was however saddled with lots of scandals and fraud including high number of ghost ex-workers in payroll while the genuine ones suffer, accrued huge amount of liabilities and the lack of database and information on pensioners, making it difficult to resolve issues around the scheme.
This ugly trend defeated the aim the agency was set up for, which was to originally work to ensure that pensioners who have spent the better part of their lives working hard for the country are properly served and receive their due entitlements.
However, the narrative is beginning to change for the better as pensioners welfare have improved, following the appointment and assumption of office of a new Executive Secretary Barr. Ikeazor, in September 2016.
According to Ikeazor, “I have made it my personal mission to ensure that pensioners under the Defined Benefit Scheme DBS across the nation are heard, are well represented to the government and are continually served with the upmost empathy and respect.’’
Ikeazor noted that as at July 2017, about 237,000 pensioners managed under the DBS collectively receive an average of N7 billion monthly in pension payments, adding that the number continues to change due to the ongoing verification exercise for the various pension sectors across Nigeria.
She emphasized the importance of verification exercise, describing the process as the ‘’most credible process building a credible and genuine database of pensioners.’’
She added that the process has aided the removal of ineligible pensioners, while genuine pensioners who were omitted are enrolled unto the payroll, and their authentic documentation used for computing their arrears and determining the Federal Governments accurate pension liabilities are gathered.
She said through the verification process the directorate has been able to payroll 17,845 new civil service pensioners including their arrears totaling about N755million, adding that a balance of 3.9billion will be paid to new enrollees when the funds are available.
“We are currently in the process of verifying the civil service pensioners in the South West region which has the largest number of pensioners with about 21,000 estimated in Lagos alone. We have verified about 61 percent (68,000) pensioners within the civil service,’’ she said.
Noting the benefits of the verification exercise she said 15,600 names of pensioners without Bank Verification Number (BVN) has been identified and removed from the payroll, this, she added has enabled them save N300million monthly which was used to settle other genuine pensioners.
The Executive Secretary also said the payment of N1.58billion to the Next of Kins (NOKs) in the Education and Health parastatals validated under the Parastatals Pension Validation Exercise (PPVE) carried out by the Pension Commission (PENCOM) is part of the achievement recorded with the commencement of verification in 2016/2017.
Another success of the exercise is the payroll clean-up and efficient administration which resulted in the reduction of liabilities by N10billion and N5.7billlion, including the data capture of excluded pensioners of 10 defunct privatized agencies.
She further emphasized that the verification exercise is critical to the successful delivery of its mandate; adding that the automation of payment process and the use of government-to-person electronic payments is a reform strategy that has recorded huge success for PTAD.
Pensioners receive their payments directly into their bank accounts and we ensure as long as money is available that pensioners are paid by the 20th of every month without delay,’’ she assured.
Other reform areas are the digitization of pensioners data and record for secure archiving which enables the conversion of old physical pensioners files to e-files, allowing PTAD to create a robust database of all pensioners information.
Including the introduction of client focused service orientation that shows care and empathy, and the automated computation of benefits which enables the quick and accurate calculation of pensioners’ benefits using the data provided during verification.
Though, lots of achievements recorded, the issue of fraud has remained a challenge for PTAD, with pensioners being defrauded regularly.
According to the ES, “our pensioners still experience random scammers who call on them claiming to be staff of PTAD and asking for a charge/fee to process their complaints and facilitate the payment of purported arrears.
We have set up an Anti-Corruption and Transparency Unit (ACTU) and partnering with agencies such as Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) to ensure that pension to administration does not revert to its legacy state, riddled with allegations of corruption and fraud,’’ she stressed.
In her zeal to sanitize the system, the ES relieved five senior officials of their duties after a verification exercise showed that their employment was not in line with the rules and regulations of the public service which stipulates that a would be employee into the service must not be below 18 years, or above 50years of age on the date of first appointment.
It is worthy to note that liaison offices of PTAD have been established in six states of the federation. This, it is said, is geared towards ensuring that services are brought closer to the pensioners, even as plans to establish more offices is being worked out.
The Executive Secretary while hosting the management of Blueprint at its headquarters in Abuja, said she currently serves as the Vice President of Women in Politics Forum (WIPF) which she co-founded to build the capacity of female politicians across political lines.
With over 30 years of Post-Graduation experience as a legal practitioner, Politician, Management Consultant, Philanthropist and Social Activist who consistently demonstrates passion and excellence in the efficiency, productivity, and quality of her work with several local and international organizations, she brings to PTAD a legacy of integrity and passion for service to humanity.
To lend credence to my mission I have also conferred upon myself the auspicious title of Mama Pension. The title comes with a lot of responsibility, but I am glad to say pensioners’ welfare under PTAD’s management has improved in the short space of 11months since I took over the helm of affairs.
We are moving as a progressive agency of the federal government with a vision to be the model organization for the delivery of innovative and sustainable pension services,’’ she said.
Appraising the activities of the ES, the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Blueprint Newspapers Salisu Umar, maintained that the growth of any organisation depends on the leader of that organization.
He said “the paper has been watching curiously your activities since you came on board and we must say it is quite commendable. You have done the best and this shows that an office depends on who is occupying it.
“Some other persons will occupy this same office and people will not feel any impact, but since you came on board people have been feeling your impact and it is worth commending you for,” he added.