The Minister of Power, Professor Bart Nnaji, has requested leading Civil Society Organizations (CSOS) in the country to look into the management of the funds of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) staff pension scheme.
The public scrutiny to be led by the CSOs, according to the minister, has become imperative because of the “the huge amount of money which should be in the scheme but cannot be traced”.
If the PHCN 50,000 employees have over the years been contributing 25% of their salary to the pension as alleged by the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE), argued the minister, they should have over N300billion in their bank account.
“What we have rather found is a paltry N3b which cannot cover the terminal benefits of up to 30% of the workforce”, said Nnaji.
Even so, he explained, “the money came from PHCN internally generated revenue, rather than as a contribution from the PHCN staff towards their retirements”.
The minister said that “it is clear from the reports I have that it is either the PHCN staff did not contribute 25 per cent of their salary or that some unscrupulous officials made away with over N300b which was over the years deducted from their pay”.
He hinged the call for a public scrutiny of the management of the pension funds on the need for values of probity, accountability and public morality.
Exonerating the Ministry of Power and the Federal Government from culpability in a possible fraud in the pension scheme, the minister stated that the funds were managed by only a group of trustees made up of the PHCN management and officials of the three trade unions in the PHCN “who are also the sole signatories to the bank accounts”.
Payment of severance benefits to PHCN employees in the wake of the privatization of 17 PHCN successor companies has pitched the leadership of the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) against the government.
Despite the failure of the PHCN staff to contribute to the pension scheme, said the minister, the government has decided to pay them 25 per cent of their salary up to June 30, 2004, when the law allowed the PHCN to operate a special pension scheme.
He added: “And in spite of the PHCN refusal to comply with the new Pension Reform Act which came into existence on July 1, 2004, and which requires each worker to contribute 7.5 per cent of his salary to the scheme and his employer another 7.5 per cent, the government has offered to pay the staff 15 per cent of their salary from July 1, 2004, to June 30, 2012.
“We intend to take this money from the public treasury, that is, money belonging to Nigerian tax payers because we do not want the thousands of hardworking PHCN workers to retire into penury after several years of considerable contributions to national development”.
Prof Nnaji’s letter, written today, according to his media team, was addressed to the Save Nigeria Group led by Pastor Tunde Bakare, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre run by Comrade Ibrahim Awaal Rafsanjani, Concerned Professionals headed by Professor Pat Utomi, Civil Liberties Organisation led by ,Civil Rights Congress of Nigeria headed by Comrade Shehu Sani, Law and Social Development Centre chaired by Bamidele Aturu, Institute of Human Rights and democratic Studies led by Dr Josephine Okei-Odumakin and the Transition Monitoring Group which comprises over 200 Non Government Organisations and led by Moshood Erubani who used to head the Campaign for Democracy.