By Kunle Akogun
The Senate was Wednesday told that the initial figure of N12 billion fraud discovered in the administration of the National Pension Scheme for which 32 staff members of the Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation are facing court charges, had now increased to N18 billion following the uncovering of fresh N6 billion additional embezzlement.
Disclosing this to the Senator Aloysius Etok-led Joint Committee on Establishment, States and Local Government which is investigating the pension fund management in the country, the Chairman of Pension Review Task Team (PRTT), Mr. Maina Abdulrasheed, said as a result, the court charges had been increased to encompass the new discoveries.
Abdulrasheed also told the committee how officials of the Police Pension Board used falsified documents to withdraw N24 billion from the Budget Office for the payment of pension that required only N3.5 billion.
He said through this discovery, the Task Team recovered N20.5 billion balance of the money lodged in a First Bank account.
He told the committee that the team discovered two major accounts in Lagos where pension fund for the police was lodged and said one account had N21 billion, while the other had N24 billion.
Abdulrasheed, who disclosed that the police pension fund was under the team, said when he discovered that on a daily basis various sums of money from N200 million to N300 million were being withdrawn, he applied to the Accountant General of the Federation (AGF) for the transfer of the accounts.
He said in his application that since the headquarters of the Police Pension was in Abuja, the accounts should be moved to two new accounts to be opened in Fidelity and UBA banks but that the then Head of Service Dapo Afolabi told him to hands off the pension fund.
The committee, after listening to Abdulrasheed’s submission, directed him to make available all relevant documents relating to the transactions including bank statements; cheque books and other documents that would assist the committee in arriving at drawing its report.
Abdulrasheed also told the committee that the revolution introduced in the nation’s pensions fund management by former Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Mr. Steve Oronsanye, had simplified the administration and disbursement of the pension scheme to beneficiaries.
He disclosed that as at December, last year, a total of 49,395 pensioners including those who retired as far back as 1968 who had never been enrolled had now been verified and their biometrics captured, bringing the total number of pensioners on the payroll to 120,733.
“Prior to the introduction of the biometric system, government had been paying 141,792 pensioners up to the tune of about N3.3 billion as regular monthly pension,” Abdulrasheed disclosed, saying however that “following the exercise, it was found that 70,657 pensioners were qualified and eligible to draw regular monthly pension out of the 141,790 pensioners who were hitherto on the payroll”.
The PRTT boss also disclosed that the government spent N250 million yearly between 2005 and 2011 on pensioners’ verification exercise, adding however that “in order to avoid this and cut cost, we devised a system of smart card through which the pensioners could now receive their pay through the ATM”.
He further enumerated other achievements of the PRTT to include: “reduction of pension wage bill from N5 billion to N1.6 billion monthly resulting in N3.4 billion savings from June 2010 to December 2011”.
He asserted that the PRTT discovered and reported to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) colossal loss of pension funds by the former management and staff of the Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation (OHCSF) where N24 billion and landed properties carted away were recovered and that the case was currently in the Federal High Court, Maitama, Abuja.
“Due to the diligence of the PRTT, N35 billion is sitting in various banks of the OHCSF pension office; another N28 billion was saved from the restructuring of the Police Pension Office,” lamenting however that the team was directed to stop the restructuring half way.
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