October 1, 2022

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Bayelsa Pension Thieves In Trouble

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John ODHE, Yenagoa

 

“Many days for the thief, but one day is for the owner of the house.” This is a popular proverb that is being given an expression in Bayelsa State, as those who have been stealing from pension funds approved by the state government are being exposed.
In the recent past, retirees in the state have been groaning over the corrupt practices of some workers in the Bayelsa State Pensions Board. Some of the workers are said to be stealing from the retirees.

 

TNN learnt that whereas the state governor, Senator Douye Diri releases N200 million monthly for the payment of outstanding gratuity that accumulated even before he got into office, a lot of the retirees are still complaining of non- payment of their entitlement.
It was learnt that the sharp practices by some staff of the board may have been responsible for the delay in the payments. Sources said some of the staff compel the retirees to pay them first, before they process their documents for payment.

 

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For instance, the establishment bureau at the governor’s office is supposed to issue retiring civil servants forms for free. But the forms are said to be sold by some civil servants for a fee ranging from N10, 000 to N15,000.
After filling the form, the retiring workers are also made to pay another sum to return the forms. If they complain, the civil servant in charge would remind them that they used their money to photocopy the forms and that they must pay for any service they wanted.

 

 

We gathered that the release of N200 million to fast track the payment of the pensions backlog, rather than ease pensions related issues, may have heightened the corruption in the system as the pensions agents reportedly took advantage of the rush by pensioners to get themselves enrolled for their payments which is supposed to be on first come, first served basis.
It is even said that that retired permanent secretaries and directors who earned fatter salaries while in service, have been the first to receive their pensions and gratuities, leaving those who don’t have connections and money to wait endlessly without any hope of receiving theirs.

 

 

Our investigation further revealed that the difficulty in the process and the money pensioners pay before retirement forms are issued by the Establishment Bureau in the Governor’s office is nothing compared to what pensioners encountered when their file is transferred to the Pensions Board for final computation and payment.
Pensioners continually and persistently throng the state pensions office only to be told that “your file has not been found, the officer who is supposed to attend to your file is not on seat, come the next day.”

 

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To make matters worse, if by chance you are lucky to be attended to and finally informed that your name has been listed for payment, you have to go through another hurdle of negotiating on the amount you have to pay before you can collect the gratuity.
It was gathered that some persons take advantage of the bottleneck associated with the process to work as agents, a kind of go-between staff of the board and retirees, to fast track the payments, benefits, thereby heightening the rush and making pensioners to pay huge sums of money before collecting what is rightly their entitlements.

 

 

A retiree who narrated his ordeal to our correspondent on condition of anonymity said “for me and others who retired in 2015, life has been a hell considering that after serving for 35 years we have not received our gratuities.”
He noted that most retirees were sick, some homeless and begging to survive, while many have died waiting for their gratuities, adding that the gratuity is what a pensioner was supposed to use to build a house, start a small business or take care of health challenges associated with old age.
He lamented the harrowing experience they were going through because of the corruption in the system which those working in the pensions office made retirees to go through, saying that there was no sincerity in the civil service.

 

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“I retired since 2015 and up till now, almost nine years, I am still waiting for my gratuity. Imagine the stress and hardship. If not of God I would have been dead by now. I was sick to the extent that I went through operation, but thank God that my children and relatives assisted me.
“The other day I spoke to a fellow retiree and I was shocked to hear that he has been given a quit notice for the house he was managing with the children. I think maybe if the gratuity has been paid, he would have put a small building for himself. This is really sad, to say the least. Retirees are being treated badly as if they are not human beings.
“I heard that Douye Diri is releasing money every month for the payment of retirees, that is good but I have not received mine. I want to beg those working in the pensions office to be sincere and avoid the usual style of paying some persons because they have persons in government who can influence the quick payment of their gratuities.”

 

However, chairman of the pensions board, Mr. Victor Akenge has said that the board is working hard to ensure that the effort of the governor at clearing the backlog of gratuities owed retirees in the state is sustained.
Reacting to the allegations while speaking to our correspondent, Akenge said those who used to pose as pensions agents and defraud unsuspecting retirees were being hounded. He said they were not civil servants.

 

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Akenge noted that pensioners should be grateful to the governor who, on inception, announced the monthly release of N200 million monthly to upset the backlog of gratuities, stating that the current administration met an unpaid gratuities dating back to 2007.
He recalled that the board has been able to pay gratuities to retirees up to 2014 in LGAs like Brass, 2013 in Kolokuma-Opokuma and Sagbama LGAs, 2012 in Nembe and 2011 for Yenagoa, Ogbia and Southern Ijaw LGAs because of the large numbers of retirees in those LGAs.
“The governor is paying pensions and gratuities as and when due, considering that we have pensions arrears dating back to 2007. But from that time till now, at least we have paid till 2014 in some LGAs while in Yenagoa, Ogbia and Southern Ijaw we have paid up to 2011 because of the bulk of pensioners.

 

 

“Kodus to the governor because he has been very faithful to the amount he has been releasing to pay pensioners and sometimes he increases the amount. And every month, we pay pensioners without recourse to lobbying; they are paid as and when due because their details are with us so they receive their alerts when it is their turn.
“You see, in Bayelsa the system operates on rumour, the governor gave us a mandate and it is to pay as and when due. So, we pay according to the date of retirement, even if you pay money to someone to help. So, it is not a system where you lobby or give money to someone. The board does not allow people giving money before gratuities are paid.”

 

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“We pay according to retirement year and we have a way of checking that except you want your self to be so deceived. We strictly follow our guidelines in the payment of gratuities and there are mechanisms for checks so that nobody flouts the governor’s directives.
“Besides, we have all their details in our computers. You do not have to come lobbying. Immediately it is your turn, you receive alert even when you are in your house. Most people are praising the government, saying that it is unlike previous administrations where retirees have to lobby before getting paid.”
While enjoining pensioners to be patient with the system, which he described as steady, Akenge also advised the retirees to be wary of fraudulent elements who infiltrate the system to dupe desperate pensioners and paint the state government in bad light.

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