By Johnbosco Agbakwuru
ABUJA – MINISTER of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige yesterday inaugurated a seven-man implementation Committee on the Report of the Administrative Panel of Inquiry into the financial affairs of the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund( NSITF).
This is as the Minister has warned that the “agency would no longer be a cash cow. ”
Addressing members of the committee drawn from the office of the Accountant General of the Federation, Office of the Auditor General of the Federation, the Private Sector and the Ministry of Labour and Employment whose Permanent Secretary, Mrs Ibukun Odusote is to chair the committee, Ngige recalled the high premium placed on the religious implementation of the report by the Federal government. He described the implementation committee as key to charting a new course for the agency, adding that its constitution is a presidential directive.
According to him in a statement by the Director of Press in the ministry, Samuel Olowookere in Abuja last night, “The Federal Government finds it desirable that that report of the Administrative Panel of Inquiry into the Financial affairs of the NSITF be religiously implemented in order to give the agency a new lease of life. The President gave approval for this Inter-Ministerial Committee because of the humongous nature of the problem so as to ensure broad participation of experts from other ministries and preclude any accusation of narrow interest .”
“You are aware that in the last seven months or we have directly tried to salvage that agency from going the way of similar Federal agencies like National Economic Reconstruction FUND (NERFUND) where massive looting became an albatross, sinking the organization. In case of the NSITF, there is no law and order as per financial spending, no vote book, no internal audit mechanism, no transparent procurement plan that gives government value for money , no audited account for the last six years, occasioning massive loss of funds, inability to pay compensation, death benefits , and even investment on behalf of the organization.”
He charged the committee to strictly abide by the directive of the President to work expeditiously and round off assignment within two weeks from the date of inauguration so as to pave way for the inauguration of the board.
He said, “We want to create a new NSITF that will be financially stable to fulfil its objectives,” warning members to be steadfast and shun distractions and overtures from interested parties.
He further charged them, “you will look into the Auditor General’s Check Report which we engaged the relevant section of the constitution to obtain because there has been no audited account in the agency for six years.
“You will also consider the fate of some of the staff members sent on compulsory leave to allow for an unfettered access to the books of their departments. The innocent will be re-instated while those who corruptly enriched themselves or neglected their responsibilities won’t come back. We shall engage the necessary government mechanism in disengaging such staff in such a way that we don’t breach the public service rule.”
Ngige urged the committee to work out concrete plans for the creation of tax desk in the agency, the lack of which he said, resulted in the billions of Naira in tax deductions not remitted to relevant government agencies, in turn, leading to the closure of the agency’s branches in Port Harcourt and Onne in Rivers State as well as in Owerri, Imo State. “The problems dogging the agency are gargantuan and unknown to many armchair critics,” he added.
The Minister used the occasion to also clear the air on the ownership of the NSITF, declaring it “one hundred percent Federal Government organization.”
He explained however that its tripartite nature is a result of workers and employers involvement. Said he, “I am explaining this because there is an insinuation in some quarters that NSITF contains workers’ money.
“The contributions therein are premium paid on behalf of workers by employers and nothing more. The workers benefit from the fund just as their employers. Ignorance of this fact has made some people assert unnecessary rights over its management.”
Responding on behalf of the Committee, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry, Mrs. Ibukun Odusote thanked the Federal Government for the confidence reposed in them and pledged fidelity to the terms of the assignment.