Posted by News Express | 20 December 2019 | 2,379 times
The issue of pension is known to be a nagging and thorny matter if not properly and systematically handled. It is also capable of defying solutions, breeding corruption and making life miserable for retired workers and senior citizens. In Imo State, non-payment of pension whether deliberate or not was ex-Governor Rochas Okorocha’s albatross as many believe that such negligence roundly de-marketed his Rescue Mission government. Lacking the political will and sincerity of purpose to regularise pension payment for eight years, the rescue mission administration is today condemned for deepening the woes of Imo pensioners.
The administration of Imo pension was rather a cesspool of corruption as it turned to a cash-cow for a few corrupt civil servants who made fortunes at the detriment of the groaning and dying pensioners. The pension administration was flawed with malfeasance and enmeshed in deep-seated corruption as a result of the reckless and chaotic administration of the Rescue Mission government.
As stated by Chief J. B. Ugochukwu, Chairman, Nigerian Union of Pensioners, Imo State, in a recent press conference held in Owerri, "the Imo NUP lost in quick succession three state chairmen in mysterious circumstances namely Chief G. U Ezeji, Chief D.S Nwokedi, Chief J. D Osuigwe and many others due to callous treatment meted out to Imo State pensioners by the immediate past Government of Imo State led by Owelle Rochas Okorocha.
"Pensioners were not paid their monthly pension. When that government (Rescue Mission) decides to pay, it was usually three months of pension paid once in every year. Before that, pensioners will be subjected to a frustrating pensioners verification and capturing which may last up to three months. The worst however was that many who were verified could not be issued their cheques in the final analysis while those who were issued cheques could not cash it because they were issued dud cheques. As I am speaking to you, many pensioners are still having those cheques unfair."
This is the crisis-ridden pension scheme Gov. Emeka Ihedioha inherited on May 29 this year. Though he was privy to the excruciating pains and sufferings Imo pensioners were subjected to and on the other hand the failures of Okorocha-led administration to systematically address the issue of pension payment in the state, the governor may not have anticipated what he finally met on ground.
Apparently demonstrating his preparedness to Rebuild Imo from all facets, Gov. Ihedioha ordered for once-and-for-all verification exercise of all pensioners in the state upon assuming power. Personnel and equipment were diligently and strategically deployed to all over the 27 LGA for the job. The essence of the exercise, as the governor would explain, is to incorruptibly entrench a credible database that will systematically provide every information regarding to pension administration in Imo State. The vital information as required by the new government probably includes the number of pensioners, the monthly financial involvement, the period of accumulation and sum. The verification exercise, which is an all-round sanitisation exercise, saved the state from further losing its scarce resources as hundreds of millions of Naira that were siphoned and filtered away any month the past administration paid pensioners were stopped and the loophole blocked.
Upon completion of the verification exercise, the Rebuilt Imo government took the very bold step by paying two consecutive months of August and September. It was indeed moment of relief Imo pensioners. The government has also subsequently paid for October and November. As this piece is being packaged, the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Chibuike Onyeukwu, had equally conveyed the directive of the governor regarding payment of December salaries and pensions.
This kind gesture and sincerity of purpose by the Rebuilt Imo governor gladdened the Imo NUP Chairman, Chief Ugochukwu, who praised the thanked the governor on behalf of the pensioners for truly making his words his bonds.
“Let me join the National President of our great union, Dr. Abel Afolayan, to once more express the union’s appreciation to the incumbent Governor of Imo State, Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, whom on assumption office has confronted the problems of pensioners headlong having started the payment of pensioners,” he acknowledged.
Beyond the quick intervention and what could be administratively described as a short term measure, Gov. Ihedioha, has unfolded a one-stop-shop solution to the perennial problems that enveloped the Imo pension scheme which is the Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS).
While unveiling the Scheme, the governor said that the CPS will ensure that remittances into workers’ Retirement Savings Accounts and funding of the retirement benefit bond redemption fund accounts, were made. He maintained that the new pension arrangement will guarantee sustainability of payments and regularity of same.
“I am glad to inform you we have adopted of the Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS) as the most sustainable system. Incidentally, the Imo State House of Assembly, passed a Law to this effect since 2009, but it is yet to be activated, in the interest of the pensioners, till date,” the governor said while keying Imo State to the Scheme.
There is no gainsaying that the issue of pension is a continuum which could constitute a serious distraction to the operations of government if not properly and systematically managed. This may have radiated all over the mind of the governor, who promised to end the nagging problems associated to pension administration and payment, when he keyed the state into the scheme.
Giving an insight into the scheme, Sir Chime Aliliele, the newly appointed Executive Chairman for the newly established Imo State Pension Commission, said, the Scheme stipulates that employer, in this case, the state government, and the employees, Imo workers, will contribute a minimum percentage of the employee’s salary, between 8-10% to an account that will be managed by a third party. The employee upon retirement, shall be paid 50% of the contributed sum as Gratuity while the remnant shall be spread and payable as monthly pension.
Going forward, the new Imo Pension boss proclaimed the beginning to the end of pension brouhaha citing a sustainable framework that automates payments of gratuity and regular pensions being institutionalised via the Contributory Pension Scheme. This is considerably a milestone and feat Gov. Emeka Ihedioha has achieved in less than a year as governor of Imo State.
The governor indeed deserves our commendation.
•Ebere Uzoukwa is a journalist and public affairs analyst.
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