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Opposition to FG borrowing N2t from pension fund grows

Related

• Critical Stakeholders As Provided In Pension Act, Not Consulted On Borrowing – NLC
• We Don’t Have Confidence In Our Politicians To Safeguard Our Life-savings — ULC
• It’s Unthinkable For FG To Borrow From Pension Fund - NECA
• Labour Must Engage Govt By Asking Relevant Questions - Esele

Workers lack confidence in the ability of the political class to deliver on their promises, or to safeguard their life-savings when entrusted in their hands, is swelling opposition to the Federal Government’s plan to borrow N2t from the current N10t pension fund to finance infrastructure.

The Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, who spoke at the National Economic Council (NEC) meeting, which he presided over recently disclosed that the government had concluded plans to borrow the amount for the aforestated purpose.

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While the United Labour Congress (ULC) is unequivocal in its submission that the future of Nigerian workers cannot be guaranteed “if a large chunk of pension funds are controlled by crass, profligate and often insensitive politicians famous for their careless handling of public funds,” the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) reminded that the Contributory Pension Scheme, which came into being in 2004 is fully funded by workers and employers, and privately managed by Pension Fund Administrators (PFAs), adding that the funds are in the individual Retirement Savings Account (RSA) of beneficiaries. 

According to the President of the ULC, Joe Ajaero, “We find it difficult to muster any confidence from anywhere to entrust our livelihood in the hands of a group that has historically and systematically decimated our collective resources over the years, pauperising us at the slightest opportunity, without any conscience.

“We do not have confidence in the sincerity of our politicians to deliver on the area of safety of our life-savings when it is entrusted into their hands. They have already gorged themselves full with public wealth and nothing will stop them from doing the same with the pension fund if we are not watchful. 

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He urged the Federal Government “and any other person thinking of cornering “workers’ money” through the pension fund to look elsewhere. It is ill-advised and will threaten our future. Nigerian workers work for their retirement benefits, as they do not enjoy while at work. It is therefore immoral and careless to subject such fund, which is the life-blood of Nigerian workers to the itchy-fingers of Nigerian politicians no matter how well-intentioned, especially when we know that ‘the way to hell is littered with good intentions,’ Ajaero said.
 
The President of Nigeria Labour Congress NLC, Ayuba Wabba, while faulting the government’s plan explained that the main objective of the scheme is to ensure that after retirement every worker in public or private sector who had contributed to the scheme receives his/her retirement benefits as at when due. 

He added that the N10t pension fund is not warehoused in the pension commission (which is the regulator), the Central Bank of Nigeria, the Pension Fund Administrator, or the pension fund custodian. The fund is warehoused in the private individual Retirement Savings Accounts (RSA) of contributors, who are workers and beneficiaries. 

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He further explained that the guidelines on investing pension funds, which had the input of organised labour, pension union has the primary objective of an adequate return on investment and the safety of the fund. 

Wabba added: “The pension fund administrators are investing for maximum return on investment for the benefit of the beneficiary and not borrowing. The Pension Reform Act 2014 provides for investments, not borrowing. The Pension Fund Administrators (PFAs) is to invest based on their risks and reward appetite; but usually in minimal risk entities. They are not to be coerced or cajoled to invest because it is criminal to do so.”
 
The NLC chief said labour is curious that as a critical stakeholder, as provided in the Act, both NLC and Trade Union Congress (TUC) was not consulted on the borrowing. 

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“It is equally a violation of a provision of the Pension Act five years down the line, the board of Pencom statutorily saddled with taking or approving decisions as weighty as this has not been constituted. Pencom is a very critical labour market institution,” he stated.

He reiterated that labour concern is further deepened by the fact that at the moment, government’s indebtedness to pensions in accrued rights, pension differentials, minimum pension guaranty, pension increase, etc. are in excess of N400b.

The Director-General of the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA), Timothy Olawale, while expressing grave concern at the fate of the Nigerian workers, in the face of incessant borrowing by government at all levels without corresponding development, noted that it was unthinkable for government to borrow from the pension fund when the citizens have not felt the impact of the mounting debt of government at all levels.

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Noting that the action of government has the potential to threaten the scheme and erode contributors’ confidence, he said what is paramount to contributors and other stakeholders alike is the safety of the fund, which, unfortunately, the government cannot guarantee.
 
Conversely, a former President of Trade Union Congress (TUC), Peter Esele thinks the labour movement must engage government by asking relevant questions rather than opposing its decision to borrow from the contributory pension fund, has said. 
 
Esele, who is a former board member of Trustfund Pension Limited, explained that the Federal Government has been borrowing from the fund since 2004 when the policy was introduced through money instruments. 
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His words: “As a former director of Trustfund Pension Administrator (PFA) board, I expect labour to be proactive on the matter. What I expect both the leadership of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) to do is to reach out to government and ask why it wants to borrow the money and how to pay back. One of the points we are missing is that the Federal Government has been borrowing from pension fund from the very beginning of the contributory pension scheme. Most of the pension money goes into treasury bills, some of the money is borrowed by the Federal Government through investment in the money market, equity market where the fund is invested. So, the Federal Government is a major borrower of bonds. Therefore, what labour leaders should do is to say, ok we will allow you (Federal Government) to borrow the money, but this is our expectation as far as the outcomes are concerned. This step is necessary not just because it is the workers’ money, but as citizens of Nigeria. It is our right to ask relevant questions about our development. This is a democracy. We are not running a monarchy system of government. Every Nigerian has a right to ask questions.

“Both Presidents of NLC and TUC are heading a very critical segment of the Nigerian nation. That platform – labour – must be used to interrogate and investigate government activities as far as democracy and development issues are concerned. We are supposed to interrogate those in political authority and also provide checks and balances platform. There is nothing wrong in wanting to know what the Federal Government wants to use the money for and there is also nothing wrong with the Federal Government wanting to borrow the money.” 

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