“During the process of opening bank accounts of the pensioners, we have identified 600,000 ghost pensioners,” said Mudassir Khan, Senior Executive Vice President of the NBP, on Tuesday while giving a briefing to Senate Standing Committee on Finance.
He said these ghost pensioners were receiving pensions from the military, the federal government and the Employees Old-Age Benefit Institute (EOBI).
Mudassir did not reveal the exact amount that these ghost pensioners were getting every year but with an average pension size of Rs6,000 per month, estimates would put the figure at nearly Rs43.2 billion.
It is the second such case of ghost recipients, as earlier the Benazir Income Support Programme caught 125,000 ghost beneficiaries who were receiving Rs2.2 billion annually.
The federal government paid Rs219 billion in civilian and military pensions in the last fiscal year and Rs43 billion is roughly one-fifth of the total amount. Three-fourths of the total pension budget or Rs167 billion, goes to military pensioners.
The actual payments to the ghost pensioners might be far higher than Rs43 billion as the volume of military pensions is far greater than the civilian pensions. The 320,000 federal government pensioners received Rs52 billion in payments last year while an amount of Rs167 billion was paid to 173,603 military pensioners.
“It is one of the biggest scams” said Senator Saleem Mandviwalla, the chairperson of the Senate Standing Committee. He said that the committee would institute a thorough probe.
After screening out 600,000 ghost pensioners, the active pensioners who are receiving pensions from the state-owned bank have come down to 1.63 million, said Mudassir Khan. The NBP executive added that more ghost pensioners could be identified through biometric verification.
Meanwhile, Mudassir deflected responsibility from NBP by claiming that the responsibility of paying pensions to ghost pensioners lay with the departments as the NBP was only disbursing the amounts. The Controller General of Accounts (CGA), Asif Ali, had raised the issue of ghost pensioners by seeking a six-monthly biometric verification of all pensioners.
However, he disputed the 600,000 figure on the grounds that the federal government’s civilian pensioners were only 320,000. Ali did not take into account the EOBI and military pensioners.
The standing committee expressed dissatisfaction over the investigation of Rs18.5 billion in losses at the Bangladesh branch of the NBP. Mandivalla directed the NBP President, Ahmed Iqbal Ashraf, to proceed against people who were responsible for huge losses, showing displeasure over the lenient attitude of the management towards the accused persons.
The NBP president said that only 30% of the Rs18.5 billion can be recovered and that too over a period of five to six years. Independent investigators have blamed 61 NBP officers for the fraud including its former President Syed Ali Raza. The scam was first reported in the media in January 2014 and since then the NBP management is trying to protect the accused persons.