NON-PAYMENT OF PENSIONS IN IMO STATE: THE TRUE POSITION
On the lame reasons given by Imo State Goverment on why they have not been able to pay Pensioners in Imo State, Sir Chime Aliliele, former Executive Chairman, Imo State Pension Commission under the Rebuild Imo Administration, lays the facts bare.
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REBUTTAL: IMO GOVT CLEARS ARREARS OF JUDICIAL OFFICERS PENSIONS*.
My attention has been drawn to some comments credited to the current Imo State Commissioner for Information and Strategy – Hon Declan Emelumba published under the above heading few days ago.
I am a thoroughbred finance and management professional with no interest in political theatrics and controversies. Ordinarily comments that fly in the face of reason do not capture my fancy. In this case, as the Executive Chairman of Imo State Pension Commission in the Rebuild Imo administration of His Excellency, Rt. Hon Emeka Ihedioha CON, I am directly involved.
Hon Emelumba ordinarily is deserving of my respect until I read his submissions in the above article. I am still in doubt whether he crosschecked his facts or he went outrightly for a hatchet job to destroy the landmark achievements and excellent job that was done by the Ihedioha Rebuild Imo Team in reforming Pension administration in Imo State, which has been receiving accolades all over Nigeria and beyond.
Hon Emelumba raised the following innuendoes in the publication, that:
1. The pension arrangement put in place by Ihedioha was “tardy”
2. Government money for payment of Pensions was paid into a private Consultants account from where pensioners are paid.
3. Consultants are paid handsomely and are avoidable in the process
4. The State Government does not have details of the contract with the Consultant and the Consultants have not been forthcoming.
5. There is absence of Ihedioha’s government claimed verification exercise
6. The Consultant is reluctant to come forward with information on previous transactions.
I address these issues as follows:
The dictionary meaning of tardy is “delayed, slow in action, sluggish, ineffectual”.
On assumption of office on May 29, 2019, as early as June 10, Ihedioha set up the Imo State Financial Advisory Committee headed by the erudite Dr. Abraham Nwankwo, of which I am also a member. Part of our mandate was to address the pension problem. While we were working out a solution, Ihedioha also set up an independent Pension Committee under the supervision of the then Chief Technical Adviser – Barrister PGU Madu – a highly respected legal and management expert. That committee had seasoned professionals in the areas of Pension, Finance, Administration, Civil Service and also members of the National Union of Pensioners Imo State Branch. The work of these committees resulted in the following:
a. Engagement of a professional pension consultant – CROESUS Integrated Ltd – a highly skilled pension reform consulting firm.
b. Recruitment of over 800 Imo graduates with computer skills on ad-hoc basis
c. Acquisition of over 400 laptop computers for Imo State Government
d. Acquisition of 27 Computer Severs for Imo State Government
e. One week intensive Training of Pension staff and the ad-hoc staff
f. One month biometric and data capture exercise of all pensioners in the State Civil Service and Local Government Service, which has been adjudged the best, most humane and most transparent verification exercise ever conducted, by no less a group then the pensioners themselves.
For the very first time after the verification exercise, Imo State had a comprehensive digital database of all its pensioners, authenticated by their Bank Verification Numbers (BVN). This eliminated the dubious process of manual pension calculation and double loading which was costing Imo State Government an excess of over N200m monthly. The only exception to this were pensioners residing abroad who were captured as soon as they returned to the State. All these actions were completed in a record two and half months from inauguration of the Pension Committee to the completion of the exercise and setting up of the digital infrastructure.
My question here is, what is tardy about the above arrangement, how else could it have been done better? Only Hon Emelumba can explain what he means by referring to this excellent process as tardy.
*Payment of Government money into Private (Consultants) Account.*
This assertion by Hon Emelumba is completely false and uncharitable. It is either that the current administration has not taken time to understudy the process in place or their spokesman is talking from a figment of his own imagination. The pension payment process is as follows:
a. The list of pensioners with their BVN and corresponding entitlements is uploaded to the computer system of the Accountant General (AG) of the State, who is the only person that has the authority to the payment module on his computer (no other person can pay, even the Pension Commission Chairman cannot).
b. The AG funds the account through which he pays. The account name is IMO STATE GOVERNMENT PENSION ACCOUNT currently domiciled in Zenith Bank.
c. This account is a non-checking account such that even the AG cannot withdraw money from it. Rather after payment every month, the leftover funds (if any), automatically returns to the particular government account from where the AG raised them.
This is the fraud/interference proof system the Ihedioha administration put in place. The consultant does not have anything to do with the pension funds, only the AG does. So at which point does the State Government money go into private/consultants account in this process? Only Hon Emelumba can tell us.
*Consultants paid handsomely and avoidable in the process.*
I saw a lot of proposals from consultants angling for the pension job in Imo State and the cheapest was for N1.8bn, others were above N2bn. Ihedioha ignored all these costly proposals and decided to handle the Pension Reforms in a direct labor manner. He used the skills of members of the Committees, Government Appointees and got the Consultants to supervise the process. All these were at a cost below N500m including the cost of 400 laptops, 27 servers, training over 850 people, logistics, allowance of ad-hoc staff and the Consultants fees. Where is the handsome payment here please? Is there any State ever that has achieved all these at such low cost?
On the flipside, every mass online payment is anchored on a payment switch like NIBSS, INTERSWITCH, SWIFT etc. Consulting companies rent their services at a cost. There is no company or State government that use the services of a switching company for free. So how can you eliminate them in the process. As I write, we understand that this administration which Hon Emelumba is representing have engaged a consultant called AFRISOFT, yet he claims that Consultants are avoidable in the process. One wonders what would have been his motive.
*Govt not having details of Consultants Contract/ Consultants not forthcoming.*
This is false as I am aware that the CEO of CROESUS Int Ltd – the Consultants have been engaging senior officials of the current administration and has even met with the Governor. The Consultants are always available discussions with officials of the government at any point in time. It therefore beats my imagination where all these allegations of Consultant not forthcoming is coming from. Methinks Hon Emelumba does not know what goes on in his government. The Consultants have provided every piece of information that this government has ever asked for and even more.
*Absence of evidence of Ihedioha’s verification exercise.*
Nothing could be more laughable and farther from the truth than this assertion that there is no evidence of Ihedioha’s verification exercise. In the first place, the Ihedioha administration paid pensions for five consecutive months commencing immediately after the verification exercise from August to December 2019. These payments were made with data from the verification exercise and on the digital platform set up thereafter. For the first time in Imo State, BVN of each individual pensioner was used for direct payment into their Bank accounts. The record of the payments are there with the Accountant General as well as the Pension Staff in the State Civil Service and the Local Government Pension office. The payments were all made electronically and the pensioners promptly notified by Bank alerts. As the Chairman of the Pension Commission, they nicknamed me “Mr Alert” for the consistency and frequency of Bank Alerts they received.
In addition, I left 5 Computer servers and 50 laptop computers with the Pension Office in the Accountant Generals Office, Treasury House, Owerri. Those servers contain the pension database as well as verifications details of later exercises done in December 2019 and January 2020 that have not been processed and uploaded to the Pension payroll. I also know that the Consultants CROESUS Int Ltd has forwarded, the contents of the digital database to the consultant AFRISOFT appointed by this present administration, of which they have acknowledged receipt. So what other evidence of verification does Hon Emelumba want. The balance of 22 computer servers and 350 laptops computers are in the custody of the store in Government House.
The time for politicking is over and this is the time to face governance. The Ihedioha administration no doubt in 7 months raised the bar and whetted the appetite of Imolites with good governance. Pensions were paid up to date until the administration was ousted.
Having months of pension arrears after the Ihedioha administration had straightened things out cannot be covered by any deceitful utterances or publications, Imolites know better.
Hon Emelumba and his likes in this current administration will be advised to eschew deceit, lies, fake information and face governance. Pension is a very sensitive area that can make or mar any government and it is one area the Ihedioha administration received its loudest ovation from. The facts as I have elucidated above speak for itself. Whatever Hon Emelumba and his ilk may think or say, Imolites know the truth and the people that matter most in pension matters – the Imo pensioners themselves will ever be the best judges. Hon Emelumba should put his ears to the ground to hear what the Imo State Pensioners are saying.
*Sir Chime Aliliele *
Former Executive Chairman, Imo State Pension Commission
in the Rebuild Imo Administration.