The Minister of Budget and Planning , Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, thursday said the federal government would constitute a special committee to reconcile conflicting figures on pensioners claims and evolve creative measures to raise funds towards resolving the huge pension liabilities to workers.
The committee, he added, would be headed by the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun.
Nevertheless,he disclosed that the federal government had concluded plans to mobilise resources to clear part of the outstanding pension entitlements put at over N174 billion.
The federal government indebtedness to pensioners is currently valued at over N300 billion.
Udoma stated this when he appeared alongside Adeosun to brief members of the House of Representatives at the plenary on measures being adopted by government to alleviate the plight of pensioners who earlier petitioned the House over the mounting indebtedness.
Both were summoned last week.
He said the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari attaches priority to payment of pensioners as promised in the president’s campaign promises to Nigerians.
He added that about a half of total revenue generated by government is spent on settlement of pensioners entitlement and payment of salaries.
Adeosun said the release of N54 billion on Wednesday to clear outstanding pension liabilities further proved government’s commitment towards addressing pensioners’ plight.
She said government’s inability to meet its obligations to pensioners was largely tied to shortfalls in revenue occasioned by recent volatility in the oil sector but assured oensioners that the issue would be resolved when the reconciliation and verification processes are sorted out.
She, therefore, absolved the current administration of blame.
Adeosun noted that though the sum of N191.2 billion was appropriated by the National Assembly, only N99. 5 billion was released, leaving a shortfall of N142.6 billion.
Notwithstanding the ministers’ presentations, the House warned that it would not accept excuses for reneging on pension obligations by the federal government.
The Speaker of the House, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, charged the executive to ensure that all backlog of pension payments are made promptly, adding that “no excuse will be accepted for failure to do so.”
Dogara gave this charge after both ministers made presentations to the House.
However, he said he remained confident of the promise made by Buhari that issues surrounding non-payment of pensions to retired federal civil servants will be addressed.
He recalled that when President Buhari made a promise to provide bailout funds to states for payment of backlog of salaries, he ensured that it was done.
According to him, “We will not accept any excuse that leaves part of this pension funds hanging. When the president made a commitment that he was going to release money for bailout to states so that they can pay backlog of salaries and pensions, it happened, even though we were in the midst of a very biting recession. Now the president has said this issue of pension must be solved.
“I don’t know where you got the money to bail out the states from, wherever you got the money from, that is where we are going to get the money to solve this problem. And for the ministers who are representatives of the president, I believe you won’t make him (Buhari) break his words because his words are cherished. I want to believe this will be the last intervention we will be having with regards to the issue of pensions in this country. That is my charge.
“The message the House will be sending to the president through the ministers is, when you meet him to brief him about this engagement, just tell him that we have taken his words to the bank and we believe that we will cash it.”
However, barely one hour after the plenary, President of the National Union of Pensioners (NUP), Abel Afolayan, in a statement obtained by THISDAY, disclosed that federal government’s indebtedness to the Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS) was over N280 billion.
Breakdown of the amount showed shortfall of N62,484,887,175 for 2014; N38,453,996,566 deficit for 2015 and N38,453,996,566 deficit for 2016 fiscal year.
“2016 was even worse as N91,914,899,000 was required, but the Budget Office proposed only N50,195,808,918 to the National Assembly, which also approved it, leaving a deficit of N41,719,090,082.
“Worst still, of the N50,195,808,918 approved in the 2016 budget, only the sum N18,823,428,342 or mandates for four months was released and cash-backed, while N31,372,380,576 or mandate for seven and half months was never cash-backed and released.
He said: “Meanwhile, the truth is that approval of payment is not the same as payment. It will be good for the minister to tell us when the fund was transferred to the National Pension Commission, and when it will hit pensioners’ accounts.
“Importantly, we are saddened that the federal government is claiming to have cleared pension arrears when the minister did not say a word regarding the over N174 billion owed pensioners who retired under the Defined Benefit Scheme (DBS). Does it mean that pensioners under this scheme have finally been condemned to life of eternal hardship, sickness, and untimely death?”