By VICTOR AHIUMA-YOUNG & LAJU ARENYEKA

CLOSE to Nine years into the operations of Contributory Pension Scheme, CPS, following the Pension Reform Act, PRA,2004, contributors and their beneficiaries are now contending with unforeseen challenges that have made stakeholders to step up push for review of the Act. In an interview, Executive Director, Human Resources, 7UP Bottling Company, Mr. Femi Mokikan, said one of the greatest challenges facing the CPS is the difficulties faced by next of kin to a deceased contributor. Excerpts:
How would you access the pension industry in the country?

My assessment of the pension industry will be in terms of what it was before the Pension Reform Act, PRA, and what has happened after the Act.

Unfortunately, some of what were on ground before  are still on ground today. Recently an 80 years old pensioner died on one of the queues in Akure and I was so bitter. I told some people angrily that no matter the vigils we do in this country, God will not answer our prayers. I don’t know the man. At a time in that man’s life, he was like you and me, and he devoted his life to serving this country.

He must have experienced a lot of hardship for the 35 years or so that he served in a Federal Government parastatal. If when he was working he had been told that there was nothing like pension, he would not have expected it. But you made a lot of promises to them. Now every year they have to queue up.
In the private sector.

A lot of companies call it pension. The day you retire or they retire you, they just give you the gratuity, everything, all your money and ask you to go. This is somebody the highest income he has ever earned per month is one million naira. And you just come one day and give him N30 million naira. It is a different thing all together.
That kind of money at once can make someone go crazy.

What will he do with it? The mindset of a business man is different from the mindset of a career person. Some swindlers will just deceive him, and the money will disappear after a year. So, when this idea of reform came, I made a whole of noise about it because I thought it was a good idea that would put an end to all this queuing up. Government mismanaged it from the word go, the information dissemination was horrible.

Eventually, Government accepted some ideas. What came out came out was not really what we wanted, but it was alright. I took time to study that Act from cover to cover and I was pleased. I said to myself, at least, let us start with something, and then any area that require fine tuning, we will fine tune.

At least now, you do not have to go and queue up everywhere. The ones you are seeing queues today are those that were caught up in the old system; who retired before this new scheme came on board. What gives me confidence about this is the structure, and I think we need to understand this very clearly.

After following the Contributory Pension Scheme For about nine years of CPS, what would you say are the major challenges?

From the employer’s perspective, the idea of asking each staff to determine Pension Fund Administrator, PFA, was an error. When you go to  many companies today, some staff do not have PFA, some do not even want to, and because of that, they do not pay PFA. I had to direct some people’s salaries to be stopped until they chose their PFAs. I was one of the last employees who chose their PFAs because I didn’t want it to be like I was marketing any PFA.

If I had chosen, everybody would have followed me. I did not want anyone to call me if there was a problem. I just chose a small PFA that I knew very well. Even then, people still followed. If they had allowed employers to influence it a little bit, today we will not be dealing with as many PFAs as we have today.

In fact, there was a PFA we started with after a very short while, it merged. But it is not so for Pension Fund Custodians, PFCs. Some of my staff picked that PFA, and later started saying the pension scheme is collapsing. I told them it is not the scheme, but  the PFA. I still know that a lot more PFAs will disappear. But it is the PFCs that matter, that is what we should be looking at.

As long as the money is not with the PFAs, they have no access to it whatsoever. So if they merge, it just means that they have carried your records there. But everything continues normally. There is also the issue of remittance coming within 7 days.

For some companies, that is not practicable. I am happy that the authorities are a little bit flexible on that.
The most problematic and disturbing area for me is how to handle the deceased contribution. If you see what I see in this area, you will agonize for  children and widows. There was one pathetic story. This woman is in Benue state. Her husband was our staff.  The man died and did not have a will. In cases like that, you have to either have a will or letter of administration.

It is extremely hard to get a letter of administration. She got to the gate of our company and told the security men that is my sister. They called and said my sister wanted to see me. I thought, and thought and I was so sure that I did not have any sister in Benue state. She left her children at the gate and came into my office alone. In fact, when you see the woman, you will know that she has gone through stress. Her eyes were red.

She said that if she did not say she was my sister, they would not have allowed her to come in. I told her that we are not like that here. Then she knelt down. She brought out the picture of the husband. That she did not sleep because she travelled all night and that her children are at the reception.

I quickly went to call my Managing Director and then we gave her some suggestions that was how we were able to settle everything. Once this money is with PFC, to get it out is a big problem even for the man who is alive, talk less of the man who is dead.

I can understand that you do not want people to be fighting over estates, for as long as I can establish that, she  is the person’s wife, and these are his children, we should pay. Unless we want to create more area boys, the kids will grow up and become area boys. My concern is for those kids, not one brother from somewhere.

Of course, in the past we used to require next of kin, but this new reform has knocked off all of that. Produce a letter of administration or the will. Apart from that, there is nothing else that can be done. I think we should be more concerned about the widow and kids than any other thing. It is in the law, but that area is causing a lot of problem.

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