Gov. Samuel Ortom of Benue on Monday apologised to pensioners over government’s inability to pay pension and gratuities arrears.
Ortom, who spoke during the flag-off of the State Contributory Pension Scheme in Makurdi, also apologised on behalf of previous administrations, over the unpaid arrears.
He said that he was saddened over the plight of pensioners in Benue, adding that with the commencement of the state contributory pension scheme, serving and retired workers would once again smile.
He said that the non-payment of gratuities and delayed pension was not deliberate, declaring that his administration was doing everything possible to address it.
“I apologise, on behalf of our government, as well as previous administrations in the State, to our workers, both serving and retired, for the inability to find a lasting solution to the pension problem before now.
“One of the most unpleasant realities we met when I assumed duty as governor of Benue was the huge pension liabilities inherited from previous administrations.
“Indeed, the pension problem was competing for attention with the humanitarian crisis arising from the perennial herders’ attacks as well as other challenges of development and governance,” he said.
The governor also said that pensioners, through their occasional protests, reminded his administration that although there were other challenges of governance and development to face, the pension problem was one issue that government must find solutions to.
He called on all stakeholders, workers and retirees to embrace the scheme so as to end the challenges of pensioners in the state.
“Indeed, our initial efforts to address the pension problem, through structured payments, proved hopelessly inadequate. The more we released funds for the settlement of the pension liabilities, the more the liabilities grew.
“We have finally come to the conclusion that the contributory pension scheme is the best solution to the state’s pension problem.
“I, therefore, call on all, especially our workers, to welcome and embrace the contributory pension scheme.
“All serving and retired staff should see the scheme as the necessary panacea to the state’s pension ailment.’’
He admitted that though the scheme was an expensive venture, his administration was committed to it.
“One of the measures we are taking to raise funds to pay for some of the scheme costs and to also pay the entitlements of workers exempted from the scheme when they retire, or to repay debts taken to defray pension liabilities, is to create a Special Fund to be invested in interest yielding instruments,” he explained.
Ortom, however, listed those to participate in the scheme as state and local government workers, while the Benue State University, College of Health Sciences, and Benue State University Teaching Hospital were selected institutions to kick start the scheme.
Earlier, in his welcome address, Mr Terna Ahua, Chairman, Benue State Pension Commission Board, had said that the pension had become a major problem to the state government following the increased number of retirees resulting to delays in payment.
Ahua said that the non-payment of gratuities and delayed pension had brought untold hardship to Benue retirees.
He said that the Commission would strictly follow its assigned mandate and ensure that pensioners smiled once again.