• Monday, July 15, 2024
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BusinessDay

Pensioners suffer as wastefulness colour PTAD’s operations

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Staff and stakeholders of Nigeria’s Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (PTAD) are up in arms against the management of the organisation over delayed pension payments, breach of public service employment procedures, illegal recruitments and frivolous spending by the organisation’s Executive Secretary, Chioma Ejikeme.

The Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (PTAD) was established by the Pension Reform Act of 2014 and is responsible for the administration of the pensions of retired Civil / Public Servants under the Defined Benefit Scheme (DBS).

The agency which was established to address the numerous pensioners’ complaints that existed in the ‘Old’ Defined Benefit pension scheme such as, the non-payment of monthly pension, short payment of pension and gratuity, removal of names from payroll, non-payment of pension arrears, irregular payment of pensions, non-receipt of pension and/or gratuity after retirement, among other has however failed to deliver as many pensioners still suffer these problems.

Adewale Ajose (not real name) a 77-year-old retiree of the civil service looked tired and poverty stricken despite dedicating 35 years of his life to serve the country at a federal government parastatal. Since he retired some years back, he has had to rely on people for survival and even took up a security job to fend for himself.

Speaking to BusinessDay, he revealed that he has no less than half of a million naira as his pension but efforts to access it through the Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (PTAD) has not only been frustrating, it has also not yielded results.

Eze Theophilus, another retiree was initially being paid but some years back, the monthly stipend stopped. Despite doing numerous verification exercises and taking multiple trips to both the bank and the pension office he is yet to receive any further payment.

“Before, I used to receive ₦4000 monthly but it suddenly stopped in May 2020. I have tried various times to find out what happened but I am yet to get a good reason for it,” he said.

Ajose and Eze are just two of the thousands of retirees who suffer similar fate in the hands of PTAD.

While PTAD states in its charter document that it has improved the welfare of pensioners “and given them a renewed hope that their pensions will continue to be administered professionally,” many pensioners reject that boast as overly optimistic.

According to a 2008 edition of the public service rules document from the federal civil service commission seen by BusinessDay, civil service officers have to retire after attaining the retirement age of 60 years or 35 years of pensionable service after which they are entitled to gratuity/pensions for life.

However, thousands of federal retirees who left service before 2007 still suffer non-payment of gratuity and pension, as well as omission and delisting from the payroll. The lucky ones are paid ridiculously low stipends.

Read also: Pensioners hard hit as inflation erodes monthly pay

Comfort Ilori, 80-year-old level 7 retiree from a federal parastatal said initially she was being paid ₦30,000 later it dropped to ₦12,000. It then stopped totally. Then it became irregular despite doing numerous verification exercises.

“I retired in 2007 and I have not been paid my gratuity up till now. They started paying me pensions in 2011, but I was not paid any arrears since my retirement and now I am being underpaid which does not even come regularly,” she said.

Chioma Ejikeme, executive secretary, PTAD in the agency’s service charter document, said pensioners and stakeholders are expected to hold PTAD accountable when service delivery is poor, express dissatisfaction or report confirmed misconduct, while this has been done in various forms, it has yielded little or no result.

In June 2022, some retirees under the Federal Civil Service Pensions, Lagos State branch protested non-payment of pensions among other challenges encountered by federal retirees at the PTAD office.

The retirees said since the September 2017 verification exercise, countless number of pensioners are yet to be on PTAD payroll till present, adding that the ‘I am Alive’ programme of the agency has been consuming huge funds of the government which could be used to settle pension arrears.

The retirees also said PTAD claimed it had paid their increment of three months arrears balance to the banks, but the banks said otherwise.

Yet during a recent forum with pensioners and stakeholders in the north-west zone Ejikeme, said that the agency had embarked on various activities including field verifications, mobile verifications, and schemes like ‘I am alive’ a web-based platform designed for pensioners easy verification to create a solid database of pensioners, while ensuring the regular payment of monthly pensions and long overdue pension arrears to pensioners.

She added that PTAD has completely liquidated the inherited unfunded liabilities of all the defunct/privatised agencies handed over in 2017, with the exception of NITEL/MTEL with a balance of 36 months, which it was fully committed to liquidating.

Sunday Inaolaji, a social commentator in a BusinessDay column said the non-payment of these stipends to eligible individuals is likely to be as a result of corrupt practices bedevilling almost all sectors in Nigeria.

Read also: Five southwest states owe pensioners N330bn – Union

He noted that investigations revealed that a letter was sent from the PTAD office through a Private Mail Box to some retirees intimating them they are not entitled to receive the federal gratuity and efforts to hear from PTAD regarding this development was not addressed.

The dissatisfaction against PTAD does not end with pensioners as some employees are aggrieved with the way the agency is being managed

Several employees of PTAD told BusinessDay that since theyhave been there, due promotions have been denied many who merit them, while those close to the executive secretary are promoted.

They added that recruitment at the agency was done behind closed doors without following due procedures or carrying relevant authorities along.

“You just resume on a Monday and see new faces already working there, while you did not hear of any vacancy or interview process,” a staff who pleaded anonymity said.

The public service employment rules state that recruitment in the civil service across different levels is subject to someconditions, some of which include publication of job vacancy in at least three national newspapers, approval of appointments by the federal civil service commission, writing of examinations by the applicant among other things.

Several BusinessDay sources revealed that the recruitment process of PTAD since Ejikeme’s appointment in 2019, falls short of the conditions as stipulated by the federal government, as new staff are seen at intervals already employed without due process being followed.

BusinessDay checks also confirm that as of the time this report was filed, there were no public information including announcement of recruitment vacancies available on job openings at the agency since its first recruitment in 2015.

PTAD has since carried out more than three different recruitments without adhering to public service regulations.

“Staff are recruited and transferred into the agency and placed on a higher level without proper charting just to ensure the executive secretary’s grip on the agency,” a senior employee noted.

He added that, “Last year, new staff were recruited with no adverts or interviews. Because she wants a second term, the E.S has been employing relatives of politicians not minding their lack of competence. Meanwhile, their incompetence and management’s disinterest is leaving a lot of pensioners groaning”.

In June 2022, the House of Representatives investigated PTAD for its massive personnel cost of N3.4 billion personnel cost despite having not publicly recruited.

BusinessDay sources also revealed that the agency’s executive secretary has also been accused of frivolously spending the agency’s funds on local and international travels.

“Top management lounge in international trainings with some undertaking well-funded capacity building trainings in the U.S and Europe over 6 times in 2 years while those not close to the ES are sent to Mararaba once in year to be trained by incompetent facilitators,” a staff alleged.

“There was a time she sponsored some people on trips to Anambra for the Ofala festival using funds from the agency, what concerns PTAD with a traditional festival and this is just one of the various ways she spends money anyhow,” anotherstaff told this paper.

BusinessDay was reliably informed by several staff of PTAD that early this year, scores of staff members of the pension organisation were paid between N400,000 and N1, 000,000 by the executive secretary to attend the wedding ceremony of Mrs Ejikeme’s son in Port Harcourt.

Staff of PTAD who spoke to BusinessDay want an independent investigation into the organisations alleged recovery of £26.5 million from Crown Agents Investment Managers Limited of the United Kingdom. The money is the leftover of the funds that was used to pay British colonial officers who worked in Nigeria.

In November 2021, Ejikeme, while speaking on the agency’s recovery on legacy funds, “In 2021, we got £26.5 million of pension funds managed by the Crown Agents Investment Managers Limited in the United Kingdom. And we also use that to defray pension liabilities in 2021,” she said.

According to a senior staff of PTAD, “no monies were recovered because there was nothing to recover. What happened was that this money which was owned by the federal government was simply repatriated at the request of PTAD. The E.S recruited a consultant to work on a ‘recovery’ in other to pay that consultant a percentage of the funds. You do not recover the money you invested in a business. You simply recall it. It is very necessary that this so-called recovery be investigated so that the whole country can know the type of fraud perpetrated in PTAD. There was no need for a consultant to recover anything at all. It was a sweet deal for the ES”.

When contacted, PTAD’s Head of Communications Olugbenga Ajayi, did not address or refute the allegations raised.