By Olusegun Emmanuel, Abuja.
The Senate today passed a bill which prescribed a 10year jail term for anyone guilty of stealing pension fund, just as it repeal the Pension Reform amendment Act 2014 which now, officially accommodates employees of private firms in the contributory pension scheme.
Currently, a director of the Police Pension Office, Mr. John Yusuf, is court over embezzlement of N27.2bn pension fund.
The lawmakers voted for 10 years imprisonment for pension thief after an exhaustive debate on the bill, even as the lawmakers urged President Goodluck Jonathan to sign it into law as soon as possible.
With the passage of the bill it will automatically repealed the Pension Reform Act 2004 thereby making it possible for every person who worked in either the public service of the Federation, Federal Capital Territory, States or Local Government and private sector, receive pension benefits as and when due.
The scheme covered private organizations with at least three or more employees.
The bill among other punishments, prescribed a 10 year jail term for anyone who misappropriate pension fund apart from refunding three times, the amount embezzled by him or her.
It also stipulates that whoever that attempts to misappropriate the fund, on conviction, will be liable to the same punishment as it is prescribed for the full offence in the act.
It added that all monies received as penalty by the Pension Commission shall be paid into the Pension Protection Fund which would had been established under section 82 of the Act.
In addition to payment of fines and serving the required jail terms, the Act also mandate anyone who misappropriate pension fund to forfeit to the federal government, any property, asset or fund with accrued interest on the stolen money.
The Act also imposed a fine of N10m on any pension fund administrator which failed to meet the obligations of the contributors while each of the directors of the firm would pay N5m each as fines.
“Notwithstanding the provisions of any other law, the commission may, in addition to the penalties stipulated under this Act, impose additional sanctions on the biard, any director, management, manger or officer of a pension fund administrator or pension fund custodian that violates any of the provisions of this Act”, It added.
Chairman of the Senate Committee on Establishment and Public Service, Senator Aloysius Etok, while briefing journalists after the session said,”When the committee report got to the chamber on the first day of presentation of the report it the committee’s recommendation of a fit and proper person was rejected and 15 years of post qualification was adopted.
“So the post qualification experience for the one who would be DG of PENCOM is 15 years. In Nigeria professional pension administration would be about 10. And because we are talking about cognate experience not post qualification experience.
“Because if you are talking about post qualification experience what about somebody who has 30 years post qualification experience with two years cognate pension experience. Is he better than someone with 10 years cognate experience in pension administration? So having realized that we have slightly below 10 years professional pension administration experience possessed by anybody in this country, we decided if somebody must have had 5 years somewhere else and then have additional 10 years cognate experience in professional pension management. That would be a fit and proper person to serve as DG.
“So, the current situation as contained and accepted is 15 years post qualification experience for the post of DG PENCOM. Penalty for defaulters: The Head of Service and Heads of different departments have now directed all the accounting departments to make sure that whatever is pension deduction should be treated as a sacred one and immediately transmitted to the receiving authority.
“The problem which PENCOM has continuously explained to us is there are people who have failed to provide genuine and credible data on themselves including their PFAs.
“There are some who have not even appointed PFAs and therefore once such funds are deducted they kept in accounts pending when they have the data to transfer them. We have like buffer stock funds pending in different places. But with the enactment and passage of this Bill today and is assented to by the President, all the penalties and all the prescriptions contained in this Act would be followed strictly by the various agencies. We have penalties ranging from 10 years imprisonment. For even failing to give proper information, you have to pay N500,000 daily by any agency. And if you embezzle pensions funds now you will pay not less than three times the amount of funds you embezzled. That is how serious this Bill has treated pension funds. If you embezzle N10,000 you are bound to pay a minimum of N30,000 and in some circumstances the presiding judge has the right to make you refund and even go to prison.
“The previous pension law had some clauses and those who have embezzled pension fund before the passage of this new Bill would be tried with respect to the old law. But I am sure if this Bill is signed by Mr President into law and your case is not settled, I am sure the presiding judge would want to refer to the current law I passing the sentence. I am sure those people who are still standing trial would be unlucky if their cases are decided after the signing of this Bill.