By Omoh Gabriel
The current struggle between the Minister of Power and Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN, is to say the least, a show of shame. The ministry had allowed some level of illegality to be perpetuated by the management of PHCN without doing any thing about it.
For years after the Pension Act became law, PHCN failed to transfer its workers to Pension Fund Administrators, PFAs, as required by law. The management had continued to pay PHCN retirees from a superannuation fund that was neither funded nor was there any plan to deduct the mandatory 7.5 per cent from the workers’ pay. Now that the ministry wants to privatize the company, the workers are up in arms to resist the much needed reforms in the sector that will bring relief to the ordinary Nigerian.
The workers are in pursuit of selfish interest. While the illegality that favoured them was on-going, they kept quiet, but now that it is the other way round, they want the sympathy of Nigerians. The row between the PHCN workers and the Federal Government arose as a result of the illegality, manipulation of the Pension Act to pay retiring PHCN workers in the past. Several PHCN workers were paid under the old pension scheme while the new pension was in operation, a gross violation of the law.
The question is: Where were the Ministry of Power officials when this was going on? Does it mean that PHCN account was never audited? The Auditor-General of the Federation mean to tell Nigerians that his office grossly over- looked PHCN accounts? Was PHCN account not made available to the Ministry of Power? Is Professor Nnaji saying he was not aware of this development in PHCN?
The management of PHCN had failed in its responsibility to fund its pension scheme which as of today, is in deficit. It did not transfer its workers to the new pension arrangement, neither did it pay its 7.5 per cent contribution nor deduct that out of its workers’ salary, yet it found money to pay retiring employees of the company.
The government has been negotiating with PHCN workers. While they have accepted many other terms of negotiation, they have refused to open accounts with Pension Fund Administrators to enable their benefits to be transferred to the PFAs as required by the Pension Act. Besides, the Federal Government has agreed to pay the workers their entitlement based on the 2004 Pension Act even when PHCN had failed to fund its superannuation.
The issue here is that PHCN workers are well aware that if their pension is transferred to PFAs, they will not be able to access the money until they are sacked or when they attain the mandatory age of 50 years before they can collect the benefits. They want the money in hand and that is why they are asking for severance. If these men are paid their entire benefits in cash, they will jump at it.
But the existing law does not provide for this. They are just pretending and for their selfish interest want to hold the nation back. Every Nigerian will be happier if there is a miracle that the government will perform to bring about regular power supply.
Two of the PHCN staff who are on the war path with the Federal Government over severance allowance are billed to take home about N38.22 million or N28.5 million depending on their number of years of service. One who has put in 34 years will have an average take home pay of N38.2 million, while the other that has put in 25 years will go home with N28 million according to a table of terminal benefits accruing to staff of PHCN obtained from those negotiating with the workers’ union of PHCN.
From the table, about two of PHCN staffers are in this category of EG1. The most senior of the two staff was employed on the 8th of January 1978 and has put in 34 years.
A break down of the benefits showed that in the EG1 category, total repatriation benefit as at June 2012 amounts to N272,602; severance pay N6,286,287; 13th month allowance of N232,994, thereby bringing the total severance benefits to N6,791,882. From the available data of benefits schedule, accrued pensions to this particular grade of officer as at June 30th 2004 when the contributory pension came into force was N20,748,617; accrued gratuity benefits as at June 2004, was N7, 242,189.
This brings the total accrued benefits to N27, 990,806. This is not all. Adding 15 per cent of pensionable emoluments from 30th June 2004 to June 2012 of N3,440,627 brings the total accrued gratuity and pension as at June this year to N31,431,433. When the total accrued gratuity, pension and severance package are put together, the worker of PHCN with 34 years of service has benefits of N38.22 million to go home with.
The second who was employed on 2nd December 1986 with 25 years of service will take home a total of N28.5 million as total accrued benefits along the above scheme just like every other PHCN worker.
If that is the case, PHCN workers must learn to understand that they were part of the compromises that led to the current situation. The Federal Government should immediately arrest and prosecute those who compromised the system for their benefit, be it the workers or government functionaries.
Nigerians need power supply, whoever stands in the way is an enemy of the people.