Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Death At Pension Office

PENSIONERS dying on queues, while waiting for their pensions, has become too routine to make news. The unofficial policy –– the one that works –– is to make collection of pension so difficult for the people to give up. There are no guesses about what happens to the money thereafter. The pension offices all over the country delight in seeing sick, weak, emaciated, gaunt old people (walking corpses beyond any imagery) set up homes at the precincts of the pension office, hoping that their names would be in the list for the pittance they are paid, usually in arrears, and often in the most humiliating manner.

Documents that were acceptable for payment in one month could be rejected the next month, without any reason. Pension offices decide which documents to accept or reject, abhor pensioners who claim they have rights and make minimal efforts about informing pensioners on what to expect.

Rule of the thumb applies, yet they call it due process, a much-maligned expression used when civil servants want to move even slower than their traditional pace.

Spectacular things happen at pension offices, but what took place at the International Conference Centre, Abuja , on October 22 can produce an action-packed home video. Had the press not reported it, it would have consigned it to sheer fiction.

A retired federal government official waited fruitlessly for his pension. From his sick bed, in Edo State, he dispatched his son to Abuja, as his next of kin. The paymasters ignored him.
He would only be paid if he made a personal appearance in Abuja , no matter how ill he was. The family took him to Abuja to convince the paymasters that he was still entitled to pension, not minding the miserly sum.

The man died in Wuse, kilometres from where the pension lords operated. In grief, but determined to accomplish the mission that brought him that far, the son wheeled the corpse to the paymasters, who satisfied, paid, not without protesting the morbid intervention.

Could this be the ultimate pension story? The last has not been heard on the poor treatment pensioners get. Many are not paid for no fault of theirs. On retirement, government offices ask them for documents, including their employment letters 35 years ago. Government offices do not have these records due to poor storage systems, loss of documents while changing office accommodations and most importantly the web of corruption that makes it safe to pilfer pension funds without anyone asking questions.

The death of our compatriot from Edo State underscores the scant attention governments pay to welfare of pensioners. It is not late for governments all over the country to devise foolproof documentation for pensions.

While a lot of resources goes into fighting corruption, one of the factors that fuels corruption is people trying to take care of themselves because the system is uncaring. Some seeing the plight of today's pensioners appropriate public funds to themselves, to secure a future that would not find them on pension queues.