ISLAMABAD: The federal government assured the Supreme Court on Thursday that it would return to the Employees Old-Age Benefits Institution (EOBI) the funds which were earlier transferred to the Pakistan Baitul Maal and the climate change ministry for earthquake and flood relief activities.
Finance Secretary Arif Ahmed Khan told a three-judge SC bench headed by Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed that Rs2.4 billion would soon be handed back to the EOBI, which had to be used for disbursing pension among the workers at a rate of Rs5,250 per month.
Likewise, Rs1.1bn would also be returned to the EOBI that had gone to the climate change ministry for flood and earthquake relief activities, the secretary said, but requested for some time in view of the present state of fiscal deficit in the country.
However, the secretary hastened to add that the funds would be returned within a day or two when the court reminded him that the money belonged to the old-age workers who had toiled day and night and not to the federal government.
Court warns finance secretary of consequences if government does not honour its commitment
At the last hearing on March 6, the court had taken exception to the taking out of huge funds from the EOBI at the behest of the federal government that were handed over to different departments.
The court then ordered the government to pay pensions of retired employees by returning the properties purchased on higher prices by the EOBI and immediately returning the funds taken out the EOBI.
On Thursday, the court said that the funds should be given back to the EOBI immediately, adding that it was avoiding giving instructions to the government to pay interest for utilising the funds and that the court could also employ other options by asking other agencies (read NAB) to look into the matter.
The court asked for proper utilisation of the funds belonging to the EOBI especially as the situation would become graver since the institution currently had 400,000 pensioners, whereas 40,000 added up every year.
The court also stressed the need for cutting the annual administrative cost of the EOBI from Rs1.4bn.
“Don’t let us observe that EOBI is not in the safe hands since its funds are being squandered,” Justice Saeed warned.
“What to say when the federal government has taken funds out of EOBI for its coffers,” the court regretted.
Referring to the monthly pension of Rs5,250 to the employees, the court wondered whether someone could make both ends meet on such a meagre amount and warned of a human tragedy looming around the corner if something was not done timely since the present funds of the EOBI would be depleted in 2022 when nothing would be left for disbursements among the retired employees.
The court warned the finance secretary that commitment made before the court had to be honoured, otherwise it might entail serious consequences.
Published in Dawn, March 16th, 2018