Passing of bill to exempt personnel of National Assembly Service from CPS by House Of Reps mockery of legislative process – Takor

Takor Ivor

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The Passing of a Bill to Exempt Personnel of National Assembly Service from the Contributory Pension Scheme by the House Of Representative is a Mockery of the Legislative Process and a Mission Towards Self Destruction. By Director, Centre for Pension Right Advocacy, Takor Ivor, mni.

It is being alleged that the House of Representatives had passed bill number HB.2025, sponsored by Hon. Olododo Cook, chairman, of the House of Representatives Committee on National Planning and Economic Development. The bill seeks to amend the Pension Reform Act 2014 to exclude/exempt the National Assembly Service from the Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS) and establish the National Assembly Service Pension Board; and for related matters. The bill provides that the Board shall be charge with responsibility of managing payment of pensions and gratuities to all personnel of the Service. The bill shall apply to all personnel of the National Assembly Service including those who had retired before the commencement of the bill. It provides that the retirement benefits of the personnel shall be adjusted to be commensurate with the provisions of the bill. They shall be charged on and paid out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation, all such sums of money as may, from time to time, be granted by the federal government by way of pension and gratuity in accordance with the bill.

Section 4 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) provides that the legislative powers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be vested in the National Assembly, which consists of the Senate and the House of Representative. Section 58(1) provides that the power of the National Assembly to make laws shall be exercised by bills passed by both the Senate and the House of Representative and, except as otherwise provided by subsection (5) of this section, assented to by the President.

In present times laws (acts of legislative bodies, statutes) are considered the main source of almost all national legal systems. That is why the elaboration of this acts is important for the state, society, and all social and political groups. They are only second to the Constitution.

The strengthening of the position of the acts of legislative bodies is in democratic character in the procedure of adoption. In the acts of the legislative bodies, the people’s will is transferred to the will of the state. They are the results of a certain political compromise of different social and political interests. For the reaching of a compromise the special legislative process is established. It is open for public, mass media, so it is under social control, commonly referred to as public hearing.

Public deliberations affects the quality of legislation and makes it more legitimate. Public hearing as a stage in the legislative procedure requires a mature reciprocal dialogue between individuals and state authorities as well as a readiness to reach appropriate decisions. In Nigeria, the practice of holding public hearings as one of the process in the passage of bills, has been institutionalized. Every new piece of legislation begins as a bill before the relevant Standing Committee. After preliminary discussion (Readings) of the bill at plenary, the next step is for the Committee to hold a public hearing on any of the bills forwarded to it. This is where members of the public and any public officials have an opportunity to testify in support of, opposition to it, or suggest amendments to the bill. Critical stakeholders on the subject matter and members of the public are informed of the date, time and venue of the public hearing. Individuals or Organisation that wish to speak during the public hearing are given a timeframe within which to submit their presentation and on the day of the public hearing, are given opportunity to speak.

Public participation in law making decisions promotes an idea of civil society. Those individuals who want to have a real impact on content of normative acts are encouraged to cooperate. This may result in the activation of various interest groups, including organisations and associations. In this context, the role of interest groups is some times perceived as being even more important in the concept of a participatory democracy than that of individual citizens. It is argued that interest groups improve the efficiency of policy making and ensure citizens participation.

Stakeholders in the pension industry as well as members of the public are critical that contrary to established procedures and conventions, the bill under reference was passed by the House of Representatives without holding a public hearing on the bill. A bill is carried forward through all the stages of the legislative process by a long chain of standardised motions, which must be adopted by the house before the bill becomes law. The House does not commit itself conclusively in favour of a bill until the final stage, when it takes a decision to let the bill pass from the House or not.

The leadership of the House of Representatives owe the public, who they represent, an explanation as to why they avoided holding a public hearing on this particular bill. To circumvent laid down process in law making as happened with the bill is a mockery of the legislative process and smacks of impunity as well as arrogance in law making by the leadership and members of the current House of Representatives.

Public hearing helps in the evaluation of previous undertakings or decisions taken on the subject matter. If a public hearing was held on the bill, the House Committee concerned and indeed the House of Representatives, would have been able to activate the various interest groups, which include the Federal Government, the National Pension Commission (PenCom), Pension Fund Operators (PenOp), the labour movement (Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress), Civil Societies Organisations and other interested members of the public who would have averted them from embarking on a mission towards self destruction, or maybe it was the fear of hearing from these organisations and associations that was the principal reason why they skipped public hearing in the process of passing the bill.

The above not withstanding, Section 60 of the Constitution provides that the Senate or House of Representatives shall have power to regulated its own procedures. Therefore they can suspend its own procedure. It is mostly done on urgent matters of State which require immediate attention. Members of the House of Representatives are the only one who know the reason why the bill became urgent to enable them to suspend their procedures, precedents and conventions that guide them in law making.

There have been several attempts to amend the Pension Reform Act 2004 and the Pension Reform Act 2014 to exempt some categories of public servants from the CPS. All these attempts where through private members bills. I will not join in the speculations on the motivations in the sponsoring of these bills neither will I be part of what some may refer to as beer palour gossip or even pedestrian discussions. All I know is that these earlier bills were killed at the public hearing segments of the process of considering them as well as the position of the Federal Government on the matter.

In April 2014, the Federal Government issued a White Paper on the Report of the Presidential Committee on the Restructuring and Rationalisation of Federal Government Parastatals, Commissions and Agencies accepting the Committee’s recommendation that the practice whereby certain categories of retirees were agitating to opt out of the CPS should be stopped. Government noted that it would be unable to sustain pension payment under the defined benefits scheme and further directed that only the Military, Department of State Security and the Nigeria Intelligence Agency may withdraw from the CPS. The position of the Federal Government notwithstanding, there continue to be a push by some segments of the public service to be exempted from the scheme.

In 2017, Hon. Olawole Oke , sponsored a bill which sort to amend the Pension Reform Act 2014, to exempt the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) Nigerian Prison Services (NPS), Nigerian Immigration Services (NIS), the Nigerian Security Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) from the CPS. At a public hearing organised on the bill, stakeholders in the pension industry spoke against the bill. Reporting on the public hearing, in October 4, 2017 the Vanguard newspaper, writing under the heading “Reps under fire over Pension Act amendment”, stated that “STAKEHOLDERS in the pension industry have taken up arms against the House of Representatives over ongoing attempts at amending the Pension Reform Act, PRA, less than three years after it was amended in 2014. Specifically, they are kicking against the plan to exclude paramilitary institutions from the Contributory Pension Scheme, CPS”.

The news paper quoted the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress NLC, Ayuba Wabba, who spoke at the public hearing to have said that “the bill looks good on the surface, but inwardly it will destroy the future of workers” adding that the position of Congress is that the bill should be dropped. The bill is not workable and if implemented, it will collapse the pension system.”

The Acting Director General, PenCom, as she then was, Mrs Aisha Dahiru-Umar, said the issues raised as reasons for seeking exemptions were challenges which were being worked on, adding that the challenges were temporal which would be resolved very soon. She went further to say that the government had been borrowing money to pay salaries and cannot continue to borrow to pay pension. She concluded by saying that there is no point to legislate what you cannot be enforced. There were several other speakers who also kicked against the bill.

On Tuesday 22nd February, 2022 the House of Representatives Committee on Pension held a Public Hearing on two Bills all seeking to amend the Pension Reform Act 2014. The first Bill, was “A Bill for an Act to amend the Pension Reform Act 2014 to provide for the exemption of the Nigerian Police Force from the Contributory Pension Scheme and for related matters [HB. 1578] sponsored by Hon. Francis Ejiroghene Waive.

There have been several other attempts aimed at exempting certain categories of public sector workers from the CPS through private members bills, which have failed as a result of the positions taken by critical stakeholders in the pension industry including the Federal Government position on the matter. The passing of the current bill is an indication that the current House of Representatives lack institutional memory, or is not diligent in the law making process or members are beclouded by pecuniary interest as it is being alleged by members of the public.

The Federal Government is already overburdened with the payment of pensions under the unsustainable defined benefits scheme as illustrated in the 2022 Appropriation Act, under the Service Wide Vote, the sum of N577.3 billion was made as total allocation for Pension and Gratuities. Pension allocation under defined benefits scheme for Military and other Security Agencies represent 45.5% of the total proposed allocations for pension and gratuity. Meanwhile, only N125 billion was proposed for payment of accrued rights under the CPS for the 2022 prospective retirees of Federal Government treasury funded Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).

What is the benefit of wasting legislative time and resources in passing a bill that the legislators themselves were afraid to follow its own due process, it is obvious even to them that it will not be assented by the President. Moreover , precedence is indicative to the fact that they lack the political will and faith to override the President’s veto.

Some reasons cited by the President in 2019 for refusing assent to some bills included infraction of existing laws and financial constraints owing to prevailing economic circumstances.

It is noted that there is a relationship between member of National Assembly and staff of the National Assembly Service Commission for whom the bill is meant. One should therefore not grudge members if they take interest in the welfare of staff and pensioners of the National Assembly Commission. In doing so however, they must bear in mind that they are elected to formulate and legislate in the public interest in an accountable way, representation is the accountable aggregation of interests.

National Assembly has a duty to promote good governance in the country. Therefore if members of the Assembly strongly believe that the pension reforms carried out in 2004, which introduced the CPS as against the defined benefits scheme is not in the best interest of workers and the economy of the nation, they should tell the nation so and be bold enough to repeal the Pension Reform Act 2014.

Parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole. Local prejudices ought not to guide parliamentarians, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole.

To continue to heat up the pension industry negatively, throwing both public and private sectors workers in confusion as well as wasting scares resources periodically during every session of the National Assembly on exemption of certain categories of public servants from the CPS is not in the best interest of the nation and the image of the National Assembly.

The passing of the bill to exempt the personnel of National Assembly Service from the Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS) and the establishment of the National Assembly Service Pension Board by the House Of Representative is a mockery of the legislative process and a mission towards self destruction.

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