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PenCom: Retirees In Pain As Acting DG, Aisha Dahir-Umar, Faces Allegations Of Corruption, Incompetence ~Omonaijablog




When President Muhammadu Buhari appointed Hajia Aisha Dahir-Umar as acting director-general of the National Pension Commission (PenCom) in April 2017, industry stakeholders and Nigerians had thought that respite had come for the Nigerian retirees, but three years down the line, it is the same old story, THE WITNESS reports.
Recall the acting DG was only positioned to steer the activities of the commission pending senate confirmation of the appointments of an executive management to be led by Mr. Funso Doherty. Vice-president Yemi Osinbajo, exercising his powers as acting president while President Muhammadu Buhari embarked on a medical vacation to the United Kingdom, had made these appointments. This, however, did not come to fruition as President Buhari, on his return, sacked Mr. Doherty and replaced him with Dahir-Umar.

The appointment of Umar has continued to raise ripples in the country and this, THE WITNESS learnt, has prevented President Buhari from sending her name to the senate for confirmation fearing a rejection of her nomination because of the apparent illegality in the appointment of the acting DG.


DAHIR-UMAR’S CONTROVERSIAL ‘START’ AS PENCOM BOSS

Few months in the saddle, the first corruption allegations against Dahir-Umar came to light when the House of Reps opened a probe after receiving petitions on the issue. But the probe panel that was subsequently set had itself been enmeshed in corruption and cover-up scandals which have overshadowed the main subject of the investigation.

At plenary, a member of the house, Mr Benjamin Wayo, had moved a motion on the alleged violation of the PENCOM Act and the illegal appointment and misuse of public funds, which was unanimously adopted by the lawmakers. Moving the motion, Wayo said 19 months after the constitution of the PENCOM board by the pesident  Muhammadu Buhari, the list of the nominees had not been sent to the senate for confirmation.

The lawmaker alleged that the current acting DG had increased the number of directors in PENCOM from 10 to 17 and jacked up collective benefits and entitlements by 300 per cent illegally. The lawmaker said the Net Assets Value of the contributory pension fund as of October 28, 2018 stood at N8.779tn, with the number of contributors also grown to 8.90 million.

“The acting director-general, Mrs Dahir Umar, has unilaterally, without any backing of the law, increased her terminal benefits and that of other senior staff of the commission by an outrageous 300 per cent and has also jacked up the number of PenCom general managers from 10 to 17, clearly in breach of the extant laws governing the institution of PenCom.

“When the acting DG of PenCom, Dahir-Umar appeared before the committee, she stated under oath that her organisation maintains only one account with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), a claim that was contradicted through communication [marked BKS/CSO/GEN/NASS/02/094] from the CBN to the committee, indicating that PenCom maintains eight accounts with it.

“PenCom has not been able to provide satisfactory answers to the enquiry about the missing N33 billion pension funds. So far, PenCom has failed to provide documentary evidence about the purpose of the withdrawal of this humongous amount of pensioner’s money and the beneficiaries. Curiously, CBN has also withheld the operational number of the account from which the controversial N33 billion was withdrawn, which indicates possible complicity in high places.”


MORE CORRUPTION ALLEGATIONS…

Of recent on the list of corruption allegations against the acting director-general is a petition and investigation by the joint Senate and House of Representatives Committees on Pensions, which revealed high level of financial recklessness, alleged misappropriation of funds, flagrant violation of procurement process and abuse of office in the commission.

According to the committees, the pension commission fraudulently spent N9 billion on salaries of only 386 staff, and another N12.3 billion (of the internally generated revenue of the commission) without approval of the National Assembly. The committees noted that by the PenCom acting director-general summation, the N9 billion salaries are estimated at an average of N2 million monthly per staff.

The lawmakers said the claim by the director-general of PenCom, that the secretary to the Government of the Federation approved the proposal on the utilisation of the revenue accrued to the commission was baseless, stressing that it was contrary to Section 21 of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, 2007, and Section 80(4) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

THE WITNESS gathered that another issue raised by the committees is the illegal appointment of Dahir-Umar as the commission’s acting director-general. The lawmakers noted that Dahir-Umar has been in acting capacity for four years, with any backing from neither the PENCOM nor any other law even as the federal government has refused to constitute a board for the pensions commission, in contravention of section 19 of the Pension Reform Act, 2014.

The act states in Section 19 (1), that “there is established a governing board for the commission (in this Act referred to as the Board). “The Board shall consist of a part-time chairman who shall be a fit and proper person with adequate cognate experience in pensions matters, the director-general of the commission, four full-time commissioners of the commission, a representative of each of the following agencies and institutions, Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Federal Ministry of Finance, Nigerian Labour Congress, Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, Nigerian Union of Pensioners, Nigerian Employers Consultative Association, Central Bank of Nigeria, Securities and Exchange Commission, Nigeria Stock Exchange and National Insurance Commission”.


RETIREES’ TROUBLE WORSENS UNDER THE CURRENT ACTING DG

Investigation by THE WITNESS has revealed that since the acting director-general assumed office, Nigerian retirees have continued to languish in pain over inhuman treatments allegedly meted to them by PenCom in receiving their pensions. This is in sharp contrast with the commission’s mission which is to effectively regulate and supervise the nigerian pension industry by ensuring that retirement benefits are paid as and when due.

Some of the retirees in a chat with THE WITNESS accused the management of PenCom of delaying/non-payments of their entitlements despite successfully completing their verification exercises.

According to David Ugwueke: “I went for verification in August 2018. I retired in January 2019. One year and four months after, no dime has been paid. I have been to my pension managers office several times, I was told that PenCom was yet to forward my accrued rights to them. When I contacted PenCom, they were just shifting blames. The suffering continues.”

Bala Mohammed, a retiree while lamenting said: “I still don’t believe that those of us who are federal civil servants that retired in January 2019 are yet to get our retirement benefits, a year and four months after, under the contributing pension system. We did our retirement verification with PenCom since 2018. What’s really going on? We are dying of hunger, we are suffering. Federal government should come to our aid. Our National Assembly can’t even question PenCom on the reasons for not paying the retirees.”

Recall the National Assembly had also raised concerns over delays and non-payment of pension entitlements to retirees by PenCom.

Members of the joint Senate and House of Representatives Committees on Pensions had disclosed that the number of retirees under the Contributory Pension Scheme as at 30th September 2019 were 298,614; while the pension industry membership had grown to 8.85 million people. But “thousands of retirees especially primary school teachers in many states of the federation who retired in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 have not been able access their contributions in the Retirement Savings Account, due to unknown reasons.”

Industry players and retirees have attributed action of the D-G to her lack of adequate expertise in managing the commission, which was why Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo who is believed to have a good knowledge of economics, rejected her and opted for another nominee in 2017.

They further alleged that the free-for-all reign of corruption and maladministration now plaguing PenCom under Dahir-Umar is further enabled by the failure of the Buhari administration to appoint suitable persons into the four vacant positions of commissioners in charge of the administrative, technical, inspectorate, as well as finance and investment sections, in line with section 31 of PRA 2014. Similarly, the governing board of PenCom remains vacant as the president has failed to appoint suitable persons representing relevant stakeholders in line with section 31[2] of the PRA 2014.


PENCOM AND CONTRIBUTORY PENSION SCHEME (CPS)

With a pension liability of over N2 trillion in 2000 following the collapse of the Nigerian Provident Fund and the NSITF, which replaced it, because of corruption,  the Olusegun Obasanjo administration carried out a fundamental overhaul of the system to meet up with its core responsibilities to Nigerian retirees. This effort became institutionalised in the Pension Reform Act of 2004, which introduced the innovation of the Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS) and the establishment of the National Pension Commission (PenCom) as the pension fund manager through pension fund custodians (PFCs) and pension fund administrators (PFAs).

To consolidate on the success of reforms in pension fund management, the Goodluck Jonathan administration deepened reforms in the sector, culminating in the Pension Reform (Amendment) Act 2014, which created the Pension Transition Arrangement Directorate (PTAD) to address pension issues relating to retirees under the old scheme and properly define the tenure of its management, as well as that of the board of PenCom.

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