Pensioners asked to pay back overpayments
It’s been 19 years since former police and quarantine officer Frederick C. Ngeskabei retired, that’s why he was shocked and frustrated to receive on May 2012 a letter from the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) Retirement Fund saying he has to pay back $225,000 in alleged overpayment since he started receiving his bi-monthly pension.
Retired police major Antonio O. Kiyoshi, now with disability and living in Arizona, finds himself in a similar situation, having been asked to return almost $93,000 in overpayments. Ngeskabei and Kiyoshi are just two of the 120 retirees that are being asked to pay back the Retirement Fund a total of approximately $5 million. This aggressive push to recover $5 million in overpayments from retirees as a result of the pension agency’s own misapplication of the law prior to 2001 is just the latest in a string of controversies hounding the cash-strapped NMI Retirement Fund.
A combination of factors has been running the pension agency to the ground. These include overpayment of benefits, the CNMI government’s non-payment of enough money into the Retirement Fund yet burdened it with costly add-ons, and alleged receipt of bad investment advice from its adviser, Bank of America Corp’s Merrill Lynch. The CNMI government owes the Retirement Fund over $300 million in unpaid employer contributions.
“The CNMI’s retirement program is one of the most luxurious on American soil,” CNMI Representative Joseph Palacios (R-Saipan) told Islands Business. Citing figures from the Executive Branch, Palacios said the average government pension in the CNMI is $20,000 a year. In the U.S., it is only $10,000, he said. Palacios also said a retired judge in Hawaii gets as little as $40,000 or less a year but in the CNMI, retired judges and justices receive $80,000 to over $100,000 a year. Even spouses and children of deceased retirees in the CNMI also get benefits.
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