In a self-scrutiny and attempt to exonerate self from possible allegations of wrongdoing, the National Pension Commission (PenCom) on August 20, 2018, issued a statement denouncing unethical conduct and other unwholesome behaviours which it says are outside its operations.
PenCom made strenuous effort in the statement to project its clean relationship with its various customers. It emphasised that its operations are guided by laws and regulations. It explained that it has devised additional safeguards against misdeeds.
“In addition to the legal safeguards and institutional checks and balances of the CPS, the Commission, as the regulator of all pension matters in Nigeria, has entrenched good corporate governance practices, high ethical standards and zero tolerance to any form of malpractice in the conduct of its staff and the PFAs,” the statement said.
As if the Commission was defending itself before a jury, it emphatically denied the existence of corruption in Nigeria’s pension industry and in the way it conducts its business, “the Management and staff of the Commission do not receive money or other forms of gratification to facilitate payment of retirement benefits, issuance of Compliance Certificates and engagement of vendors and service providers. The Commission does not also give/accept kickbacks to/from any individual or organization in the discharge of its responsibilities.”
The statement could most likely attract little attention in ordinary times. But given the numerous recent demonstrations against delayed pension payment by savers under the Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS), including that reportedly staged by retirees of the Nigerian Television Authority in Abuja, this is no ordinary time for the commission. It should be more than a comforting statement designed to sustain the confidence and trust of pensioners in the CPS and in the management of its own affairs.
Some retirees, who could not be immediately paid their pension because the Benefit Redemption Fund component of their entitlement has not been credited to their Retirement Savings Accounts, may wrongly assume that they needed “to give something to somebody somewhere” before they are paid. The assumption is wrong. It reflects faulty grasp of the provisions of the Pension Reform Act 2014 caused by inadequate sensitisation. One can say that the system of paying pension under the Act as managed and policed by PenCom has eliminated chances of making under-the-table deals.
Nevertheless, PenCom should not be so sure on the cleanness of all the other elements in the pension industry chain without rigorous scrutiny, or be complacent in the fight against possible malpractice. Constant vigilance is necessary.
For it is because corruption exists in the society that the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari made tackling it one of its main objectives. So PenCom is right to contribute to the effort by instituting “good corporate governance practices, high ethical standards and zero tolerance to any form of malpractice in the conduct of its staff and the PFAs.” Releasing information on its staff and those of PFAs sanctioned for infractions of the rules will accentuate PenCom’s zero tolerance to malpractice.
In another self-exoneration exercise, PenCom was reported on this page in the August 24, 2018 edition of this newspaper to have blamed the delay in redeeming the accrued pension rights to Federal Civil Service retirees under the CPS on the National Assembly. PenCom explained that the National Assembly consistently cuts its “absolute” requests for budgetary allocation to the Benefit Redemption Fund.
To end the alleged negative attitude of the National Assembly to the mature portion of the Implicit Pension Debt, pressure groups like the National Union of Pensioners and the Association of Retirees under the CPS should jointly lobby the appropriate Committees of the Senate and House to ensure that all subsequent requests for budgetary allocations to the Fund from PenCom are approved.
Pensioners in every electoral constituency should write petitions to those representing them in the legislature demanding their support in approving budgetary allocation for the Benefit Redemption Fund.