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N15billion pension fund: Presidency yet to order retrieval of money

By on March 26, 2013

Indications emerged yesterday that barely a week to the end of the first quarter of the year, the Presidency is yet to order the retrieval of unspent pension fund amounting to N15.3 billion from eight banks in the country in line with its extant financial rule.

The Federal Government’s hold-up is in spite of a recommendation by the deposed chairman of the Pension Refund Task Team, Abdulrasheed Maina, who incidentally, had earlier pleaded with the Presidency to delay the mop up by a month to enable him pay some paramilitary officers, who were short changed in the payment of their entitlements.

Findings by Vanguard revealed, however, that the delay notwithstanding, the Ministry of Interior, which supervises CIPPO, has not tampered with the amount in the affected banks, as alleged by some interested parties last week.

It will be recalled that some interest groups within the government, which were opposed to the excess amount being taken over by the Interior Ministry, had blown the whistle on the fund and alleged that the ministry was putting pressure on the banks to grant them access to the funds.

Vanguard has reported exclusively that one of the bank managers had raised the alarm that there were pressures on his bank to release the money to the ministry, a development the Interior Minister, Abba Moro, denied.

The minister, who spoke through his Special Assistant on Media, Mr. Ubong Udoh, said at no time did the ministry made any effort to access the money in the eight banks.

Moro explained that none of the officials ever approached any of the bank holding the money to release same to the ministry, knowing that since the year had ended the money had to be returned to the government treasury.

“The Ministry of Interior had not at any time or place, approached directly or through a proxy any bank manager to discuss the issue of releasing the unspent fund to anyone.

“The Minister is a law-abiding official of the present administration, which believes in transparency and accountability and will therefore not encourage what is latently at odds with the tenets of the government,” the spokesman said.

We only changed signature —Interior Ministry

Vanguard learnt that what was used as a weapon of attack against the minister and his ministry, was that the permanent secretary, Anastesia Nwabia, who is the accounting officer, merely wrote to the banks to replace Maina’s signature with that of the new CIPPO Director, Olabisi Jaji, who was recently posted from the Ministry of Environment to take over Maina’s duties at CIPPO.

A breakdown of the unspent funds still pending in the eight banks shows that Fidelity Bank has the highest amount with N3.8 billion, followed by Skye Bank with N3.1 billion and Unity Bank with N2.8 billion. Ecobank takes the fourth position with N2.6 billion followed by Zenith Bank with N2.4 billion. Three banks: Access, Diamond and Fin Bank-hold N300 million, N260 million and N90 million respectively.

The deposed PRRT chairman had on March 11, dispatched a two-page letter to the Presidency asking for immediate steps to mop up the money because of fear it could be tampered with.

In the letter marked PRRT/CHK.ADM/1/16, which Vanguard cited last night, Maina pleaded with the Presidency to direct the Finance Minister to carry out the mopping of the excess funds and return same to the CBN.

Maina said, “before the end of December 2012, CIPPO had liabilities arising from short payment of pensioners’ benefits from the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation to Customs, Immigration and Prison pensioners.

“These are liabilities involving short payment of severance allowance during the last downsizing exercise between 2005 and 2007. As a result, their pensions were shortchanged. 80 percent of these liability have now been settled. We are in a new budget year and there is enough fund in the budget to pay for the arrears.

Now that funds are released through GIFMIS, the remaining liabilities will be settled and request for more funds may be forwarded, if need be, to the Coordinating Minister for the Economy for consideration.

“When the excess money was to be mopped up from banks and return same to the treasury, that was when my issue with the Senate came up and the purpose could not be achieved.

“In view of this development, I wish to request that the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy be directed to mop up these funds under Customs, Immigration and Prison Pension Office, CIPPO in some commercial banks”.

The letter was promptly copied to the Minister of Finance, the Director of Budget and the Chairman of the ICPC.

But as at yesterday, there was no indication the government was in a hurry to act on the letter. The amount, it was gathered, was also not captured in the 2013 budget, having been deemed to have been returned to the treasury in 2012.