Edo Govt Explains ‘Phased Approach’ to Address Pensioners’ Welfare
… Faults reports on 42 months pension arrears
The Edo State government has said it embarked on a holistic strategy to address pensioners welfare since the Governor Obaseki-led administration came on board, noting that it is committed to paying all outstanding pension arrears and gratuities in phases to reduce the debt burden on the state.
The government said though dwindling crude production and oil prices affected revenue accruing to it from the Federal Government, it has prioritised the plight of pensioners in the face of competing needs in the different sectors of the state.
In a statement on Monday, in Benin City, the Edo State Capital, the government dismissed reports that it owed 42 months in pension arrears, noting that they “are false and a misinterpretation of facts.” The state acknowledged that it has been faithful to the purpose of the Paris Club Refund, which was disbursed to states for clearing salary, pension, and gratuity arrears. However, the state government noted that the fund available to it “is not and cannot be sufficient to settle pension arrears that have accumulated for over 20 years. The Paris Club Refund is not restricted to payment of pension arrears and gratuities, but for employees’ emoluments.”
The government explained that only a few pensioners were owed multiple months of arrears, most of whom are captured under the Local Government Pension Board, an institution that is autonomous and independent of the state’s Edo State Pension Bureau. The state stressed that although pension arrears that led to recent protests spanned for over two decades, it acknowledged the principle of continuity in governance and had put measures in place to address the issues.
According to the state government, “matters concerning local government pensioners are separately handled by the Local Government Pension Board. Up to this moment, retirees in the local government service fall within the jurisdiction of the Local Government Pension Board. Be that as it may, the issues raised by the protesting pensioners of the local government service are better tackled by the Local Government Pension Board.
“Under the Edo State Contributory Pension Scheme Law, there is a unitary Pension Bureau that will take charge of both the State Civil Service and the Local Government Civil Service staff. When the Edo State Pension Bureau becomes fully operational, after inspection and certification by the National Pension Commission, it will take over the functions of the Local Government Pension Board. This would be done after the commission conducts due diligence on the state of affairs of the board’s pension liabilities and current pension and gratuity payment status.
Some of the measures, according to the state government, include phased payment of arrears, harmonizing pension management system in the state, and migration of state to the contributory scheme.
The state government said it is committed to “pay, in phases, all outstanding pension arrears and gratuities; ensure that retiring civil servants process their papers on time so that they can effortlessly transit from their salary payroll into pension payroll at the exact time of their exit from the civil service. This singular step, if carried through without default of the retiring staff and relevant authorities saddled with the processing of retirees documents, will eliminate the incidence of accumulation of pension arrears.”
Noting that efforts have been made to harmonise pension management in the state, the government said: “We have put up measures to consolidate and pursue the implementation of the contributory pension scheme. In fact, all necessary requirements to ensure a hitch-free payment of retirement benefits to civil servants who transited from the defined benefit scheme into the contributory pension scheme regulated by the pension commission have been met by the state government,” the government added.
“We have also committed to providing adequate attention to the needs of pensioners by prompt payment of monthly pensions and phased payment of all gratuities that have been established and confirmed.”
It called on pensioners and members of the public to exercise patience as the phased payment of the arrears takes its due course, assuring that measures have been put in place to ensure that the present issues don’t arise after it has been addressed in the state.