By Emmanuel Ayungbe
DESPITE receiving N14.5 billion Paris Club refund from the federal government, Akwa Ibom State government owes retired civil servant over five years pensions and gratuities. Vanguard learned that Governor Udom Emmanuel on assumption of office in 2015 paid backlog of 10 years Local and state government workers pensions and gratuities accumulated between 2000 and 2011.
A retired civil servant and clan Head of Offot Ukwa clan, His Royal Highness, Etebom Sylvanus Effiong Okon, while appealing to the state government to have compassion on the retirees and settle their retirement benefits, lamented that so many of his colleagues have died without enjoying their benefits.
Explaining his plight, Etebom Okon, said he was finding it difficult to feed even after 35 years of meritorious service to the state, “I am suffering even as a clan head. I wonder how my other pensioners who have to come from places like Ikot Abasi to queue for hours for one form of documentation or another. So many of us have died out of frustration.”
Vanguard gathered that for over five years the state government has not paid outstanding pension and gratuities to retirees. A pensioner who confided in Vanguard said, ” at the end of the month, we are paid our pension but in arrears. You can be paid this month but payment represents your May 2013 pension.” Mrs. Arit Effiong, a pensioner said, “some of us are owed two months while some others are owed four years. It depends on when you retired.”
However, in one of the state executive council meetings in 2015 presided by Governor Emmanuel in government House Uyo, the state government had insisted that eligible pensioner must submit their Bank Verification Number, BVN at various sub treasury offices as a guarantee for payment of their entitlements.
The Akwa Ibom House of Assembly, in February this year, urged the state government to acknowledge the pains of retirees and clear arrears of pensions and gratuities which now stands at N2.08 billon. The House Ad hoc committee on non-payment of pensions and gratuities, headed by Hon Udo Akpan, had also made recommendation to the House to prevail on the state government to settle all outstanding payment of 7.5percent contributory pension scheme, CPS, to public servants who contributed to the scheme.
A source at Local Government Pension Board, LGPB, Idongesit Nkagha secretariat ,Uyo, told vanguard that the Paris Club refund of N14.5 billon to the state government cannot settle outstanding gratuities and pensions owed retirees in the state. “Payment of gratuities and pensions to retiring civil servants is most problematic. On daily basis people retire from the service after the mandatory 35 years of age and the government has to pay huge gratuities before commencement of monthly pensions . In a year over 200 staff of either state, civil and public servants in the state retires leaving behind retirement entitlement which budgetary allocation cannot accommodate.”The source added.
It will be recalled that when the state government got N14.5 billon Paris Club bail out fund from the Federal government for payment of outstanding workers wage bills in states, Governor Emmanuel wrote to the speaker of the state assembly, Oniofiok Luke to include the Paris Club refunds in this year’s budget.
At budget office, Uyo,Vanguard gathered that the state government owes retirees over N5 billon. The source added that 46.9 percent of 2017 budget has been set aside to service debts,administrative charges, overheads ,payment of salaries ,pensions and gratuities .
A senior staff in the state pension board who preferred anonymity said,”Consolidated revenue fund charges including pensions and gratuities and public debt have allocation of N82.870billon in this year’s budget.