By Dipo Olowookere
Acting Director General/Executive Secretary of Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (PTAD), Mr Murtala Musa Oluwatoyin, has disclosed that about N16 billion is paid monthly as pension.
The PTAD boss disclosed this and others in a recent interview. Excerpts:
PTAD’s Data Mess
Before I took over, we had a lot of issues. In fact, I have the personal experience of my uncle who applied for over two years and they were asking him to wait for clarification but when I took over and based on that experience, I found out that the problem is that of records. We have updated the records, we have their files and we have done so many of them. And more are still coming. As at last week, we added 178 pensioners with complaints and we paid their arrears.
Our pension liabilities keep reducing every month. Presently, we have been able to pay part of the 33 percent arrears being owed pensioners. I have paid all outstanding 33 per cent increment arrears for those in the paramilitary services from the savings we are making.
Similarly, for civil service pension, I have paid 12 months’ arrears and I am still planning to pay another 12 months very soon. For parastatals, we have been able to pay 12 months but we have issue of records with them. Before they were unbundled to us, some of the trust funds have been paying them so now we are asking for information on how much they have been paid. Once that is done, we will move ahead.
All the regular and payment of arrears we have been making are from the normal funds we receive. There have been no additional funds released to us. We make the savings from ghost manes we have been able to remove from the payroll. In one particular week, we closed about 800 different accounts in one day from various banks which we passed to ICPC for investigation. We have signed a memorandum of understanding with ICPC on pension fraud and they have promised to assist us. We are hoping that very soon we will unravel those behind the illegal accounts. It is an ongoing process however and there may be more discoveries.
BVN Has Helped
We have been using BVN to track multiple accounts. Many of such accounts are hurriedly being closed now because they realize we are on to them.
However, there are times that we remove some names because they did not appear for verification, which we later re-inserted if such people come forward and were able to prove that they were either sick or travelled and couldn’t appear for the verification exercise or because their accounts went dormant.
We have not been able to pay arrears of police pension. However, we have been able to establish their records and over the years we have been paying most of them. We have also captured those who were hitherto not being paid. Because most names on police pension payroll are genuine, we have not been able to make much savings from them. Even when I paid 12 months’ arrears across board, I could only manage to pay three months to police pensioners. Even then, I had to harvest from the savings I made from others to be able to pay the three months. We explained this to Police Pension Union. Right now, we have requested for additional funds and once we get this, or by December if we are able to make more savings from the paramilitary, who we do not owe any arrears, we will be able to divert that to pay police.
Challenges At PTAD
The primary challenge that I have is funding. The economy is in recession and so funding is a general problem. Another challenge is that of records and verification. We still have to go for verification. Right now, we are trying to raise funds so that we can embark on verification exercise for civil service pensioners. The verification will also enable us to know our pensioners physically and know the names that we are supposed to remove from our payroll.
When PTAD was established, we did not have any records. We just took over the payrolls that Mr Maina and others were using. It is now that we are cleaning the process with the records we have been able to generate. It is a tedious process, trying to establish an authentic payroll.
On Former PTAD DG’s Case with EFCC
I don’t like beating a fallen horse. If the EFCC decides to make their findings public concerning the investigation of the former Director General, it will be their decision. She has been busy trying to exonerate herself through newspaper writings but EFCC has not made any statement. And it is not for me to pronounce her guilty or innocent either. But she shouldn’t have been referred to EFCC in the first place if there was no prima facie case against her. But I am mindful of the image of PTAD as an organization and do not want to run it down. We are trying to make the agency a responsive and dignified agency and I should not be seen to be running down an organization that I am heading. However, we have already documented what happened and forwarded them to EFCC. I told you that we had issues with data and record-keeping and those are some of the things that she is being accused of. And these are issues for which contracts were awarded and never executed. These are some of the things we sent to EFCC. The question she should answer is whether those contracts were executed. Those are the issues but I do not want to dwell on them since we have handed them over to EFCC. We should just draw a line and move forward. That is why we have been quiet on our end. It is left for EFCC and herself to clear themselves.
Scamming of Pensioners
We have placed several adverts, warning pensioners from patronizing touts and also against paying money to anybody to help them process their papers. We also have call centres for people to make direct enquiries. If you are computer literate, you can make email enquiries. We are also now trying to link up with the call centre of the Head of Service. We spent a lot of money to do the link up so that pensioners will have a wider means to contact us. And we have been telling them through their unions. In fact, I am going to do radio jingles very soon to warn people not to pay to anybody. If we contact you for records, we will contact you on how it will get to us. We have online medium that pensioners can use. We have state offices where they can submit them. We will never ask you to pay a dime but we still find some people who will say some people are asking them to pay money. Even enlightened people are falling for such scam. A lawyer once approached me saying that someone asked him to pay for his mother in law to be verified and I asked how a lawyer should fall for such. And when you hear the way they present the issues, if you are logical and not greedy, you shouldn’t fall victim. For instance, if someone tells you that PTAD is about to pay you N10 million, you are supposed to know if you are entitled to that amount in the first place.
Our telephony system makes it difficult to track people. I have been working with Department of State Security Service (DSS) and all the phone numbers that people give me I forward to DSS to track but up till now, they have not been able to apprehend anybody. It is not easy to track people. We pay about N16 billion pensions monthly. It is a lot of money.
Allegation of holding two positions
It is not fair for anybody to accuse me of holding two offices. I am a director in the office of Accountant-General of the Federation. It was because of the mess created in PTAD that I was seconded there as acting Director-General. You can see than I still maintain my office in the Accountant-General’s office and whenever a substantive Director-General is appointed, I will return to my office. But up till now, no substantive Director-General has been appointed.