Federal Government Pensioners under the auspices of the Association of Retired Senior Public Officers of Nigeria, ARFESPON, have rejected the report of the Presidential Technical Committee on the Review of the Federal Public Service Pensions.
In particular, the association expressed its disappointment with the Nigeria Union of Pensioners, NUP, and Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, (represented on the committee, by Dr. Peter Ozo Eson) for not living up to expectations and allowing impunity and total disregard of the provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, with regard to pension administration in Nigeria.
The aggrieved pensioners, Pension & You gathered, met Friday July 11, 2014 at the Federal Secretariat, Abuja at a meeting called by the Council of Retired Federal Permanent Secretaries, CORFEPS, to discuss the memorandum submitted to the National Conference by the Association of Retired Federal Senior Public Officers of Nigeria, ARFESPON, on what they referred to as impunity and total disregard of the provisions of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria as amended with regard to pension administration.
It was gathered that the meeting was chaired by Engr. Ebele Okeke, former Head of Service of the Federation.
A source noted that among issues discussed were “non-compliance with the Constitutional provision that pension shall be reviewed in line with any salary increase or after every five years, whichever comes first and harmonisation of pension, as contained in the “Report of the Presidential Technical Committee on the Review of the Federal Public Service Pensions and Harmonisation of Pension to reflect relativity.”
Recall that following a nationwide protest threat by NLC over the plight of pensioners in sympathy with the NUP, President Goodluck Jonathan constituted a Presidential Committee chaired by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, with members drawn from, among others, the Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity, the Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, the Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission, the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation, NLC and the NUP among others.
The committee was mandated to, among others, look at the issue of the 53.4% pension increase, harmonisation, etc and make recommendations to government.
A technical committee which included labour, represented by the Chief Economist of NLC, Dr. Peter Ozo Eson and the NUP was set up by the Presidential Committee to critically examine the issues.
The committee recommended that the following deductions that are usually made from the salaries of serving officers should also be made to apply to the pensioners on the Pay-As-You Go scheme.
10% to reflect tax deductions; 7.5% to reflect contribution to the National Pension Fund scheme, 2.5% to reflect contribution to the National Housing Fund, and 0.4% unexplained deduction.
Based on these wrong notions the Committee recommended that a total deduction of 20.4% be made, leaving 33.0% for the Federal Pensioners.
Rejecting the recommendations, the association stated emphatically that according to existing laws, all deductions recommended by the Technical Committee are not applicable to pensioners.
The Association noted that Section 173 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria states as follows: 173. (1) Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the right of a person in the public service of the Federation to receive pension or gratuity shall be regulated by law.
(2) Any benefit to which a person is entitled in accordance with or under such law as referred to in subsection (1) of the section shall not be withheld or altered to his/her disadvantage except to such extent as is permissible under any law, including the Code of Conduct.
(3)Pension shall be reviewed every five years or together with any Federal Civil Service Salary reviews, whichever is earlier.
(4)Pension in respect of service in the public service of the Federation shall not be taxed.
They accused the committee, especially the NLC and NUP representatives for agreeing that only 33.4% pension increase be paid to pensioners instead of 53.4% in line with the relative salary increase in 2010.
They argued that the committee misadvised Mr. President into agreeing that only 33.4% pension be paid to pensioners, thereby shortchanging them.
The association contended that “the reason adduced by the committee for the report clearly shows impunity as follow: That 10% be deducted as tax from the Federal Pensioners entitlement after the Constitution has waived it is ridiculous. That 7.5% be deducted from Pension of retirees as a result of the 7.5% contributory pension of those still serving under the Contributory Pension Scheme is also ridiculous. That 2.5% be deducted from Pension of retirees because those serving today contribute 2.5% Housing Fund, which is to their benefit, is most ridiculous.”
They declared that the tax, contributory pension and the national housing fund deductions, if implemented would technically mean that all the deductions were made from source from 1st July, 2010 against the provisions of the Constitution and enabling laws.
Speaking with Pension & You, Secretary General of the association, Moses O. Okhae, said the body is annoyed with NLC and NUP representatives in the committee, because they did not bother to get back to the association before appending their signatures on the recommendations.
According to him, the recommendations were like double jeopardy to members because they made contributions into the National Housing Found, NHF, the National Health Insurance Scheme, NHIS, and paid appropriate taxes while in service.
He lamented that despite tcontributions to the NHF, they never got any house and that immediately they left service, their NHIS accounts were closed, as such they could no longer access benefits therein.
Okhae insisted that asking them to pay tax which is against the constitution, deducting NHF and NHIS from their pension would amount to double jeopardy. “what we are expecting is the immediate payment of the 33. 4 percent, now and payment of the 20 percent balance later. They ought to have started the payment since. We do not know what they are waiting or delaying for.”