By Kingsley Omonobi
CHAIRMAN of the Military Pensions Board (MPB), Brigadier General Bitrus Kwaji, in this interview with Pension and You, speaks on issue of fake pensioners and other challenges facing MPB and steps taken by the board to address them.
The issueÂ of fake pensioners has been a major problemÂ for most pension boards or offices, how didÂ you confront this?
It is a continuous thing. It is not something you can eradicate completely. We have tried to reduce it to the barest minimum. What we do is,Â we tell pensioners, if you have a genuine case, if you know you are a pensioner, come to the military Pensions Board, this is where your problem can be resolved. Some of course wentÂ to court, write to various government agencies with all kinds of stories and at the end of the day, nothing came out of it.
Pensioners now enjoy their pay. Those people with arrears of more than 20 years, 30years, we still pay them. Somebody will tell you that since 2000, I have not been onÂ the payroll because it used to be very hazardous to get it but now that things are normalized I have come for it. I just approved N7million for one pensioner.
He has not been on the payroll for long. He has been outside the country and since pension payment used to be very stressful,Â he decided not to come for his pension. but because he heard that things have improved, he came back. We checked his details and documentation, found it is genuine and we processed his pay and by this month end (December 2009), he will be on the payroll and he will get arrears of payment of N7million plus. Those are the kind of things we do.
There is this issue of the Contributory Pension Scheme. Some ex-soldiers whose monies were deducted for this scheme are asking what happened to their money because for over two years or more, nothing has been paid to them?
It is one of the things we discussed extensively at a recent conference we had with stakeholders. Government is trying to see whether it is possible for the military to come back to the old system because the information or the report we are getting from the field is not favourable to the retirees. Officers are complaining, soldiers are complaining. Even officers stay up to one year before they get their money.
So you can imagine what a soldier will go through before he gets his pay and we look at the take home pay on monthly basis, it is much lower than what is obtainable here (old system). So officers generally,Â both retired and serving are of the view that they want to come back to the old system just like the Judiciary that is not taking part in the system. So that is what is on now and we have made representation to government on it and hopefully it will be taken up and we will come back to the old system.
What is your expectation in this New Year?
Our expectation is to service the retirees better and we hope the government will still continue to be responsive to their needs. If they continue the way they have been doing, then the retirees will have no reason to complain. Their major complain now is this payment of pension arrears. They are all looking forward to their arrears. Once the arrears are put in the budget and it is passed as government has promised and it is paid, then the noise we have been hearing from pensioners will be a thing of the past.