January 26, 2010

Our Pension Fund Forgets It's Master(s)

Our superannuation fund FNPF (Fiji National Provident Fund) has been making the news particularly in the month of January and their issues are cause for major consternation.

Firstly by it's very enabling legislation, the FNPF is mandated to have on its board 2 representatives that will rep the best interests of employees:
Part 2—Constitution, Powers and Functions of the Board
Establishment and constitution of the Board 

3.—(1) There is hereby established a board to be called The Fiji National Provident Fund Board consisting of—
(a) 2 persons holding an office of emolument under the State;
(b) two representatives of employers not being persons holding an office of emolument under the State; and (Substituted by Act No. 29 of 1986 s. 2)
(c) two representatives of employees not being persons holding an office of emolument under the State. (Substituted by Act No. 29 of 1986 s. 3)

to be appointed by the Minister who shall appoint 1 of such persons to be Chairman of the Board,
(Amended by Legal Notice 112 of 1970.)

Where that falls apart however is that todate, the board remains unrepresented by valid, legal and credible workers reps.

To recap the whole sorry mess on this front, the Bainimarama military regime soon after instigating the coup swiftly replaced the old workers reps with their then Fiji Labour Party (FLP) buddies Daniel Urai and Felix Anthony who despite their union experience, had no legitimacy and were in no way representative of the majority of the workers in Fiji.

Bainimarama's own words whilst carrying out these illegal and sweeping changes were as follows:
"I have seriously reviewed the status of the Fiji National Provident Fund. This is a major financial institution with billions in assets. Its main beneficiaries are the workers of this country and their families and also serve as a stable fund source. It is therefore highly incumbent upon us to ensure that FNPF always remains in good hands and is operated according to law and due diligence," Commodore Bainimarama said.

"We have seen in the term of Qarase government the FNPF being used as a bottomless pit of funds to finance the extravagant spending and wastage by government. Whenever it needed money it turned to FNPF to finance its growing deficit. Although Government provided good return to the borrowed funds, the time has definitely come to determine the viability of that excessive borrowing."

(All we can say today in response to that hogwash is that nothing has changed where his regime is concerned).

When the military regime had a major falling out with the Mahendra Chaudhy led FLP, their nominees to the FNPF Board were then replaced by  individuals who again have absolutely no legitimacy, credibility or experience to represent workers in this country.

The two pretenders on this front are namely: Mr. Joe Rodan (from the Carlton Brewery-Fosters Group) and Mr. Ajith Kodagoda (a Sri Lankan native and their Honorary Consul in Fiji, as well as the Chief Financial Officer of CJ Patel)

No matter. At least according to section 4 of the FNPF Act, superannuation paying citizens know who to take to task when all this blows over.

So now we get to the FNPF's current shenanigan's which paints the true picture of the gross ineptitude of the current FNPF Board and Management.

For starters, early last year the FNPF had begun to make noises about "changes" in how their members could utilise their pension funds, especially relating to withdrawals causing only one major Union to raise their concerns.

Come January 2010, these new changes become much clearer to the people who actually own this entity.

Because the FNPF decided to undertake an unnecessary PR/branding exercise -- supposedly aimed at their commitment to improved customer services but in reality only impressing and celebrating themselves -- members  were invited to waste their time and line up to obtain new membership cards, just because the new cards now featured their new logo.

Senior managers of the FNPF then decide (backed by their puppet board no less) to take a fully-funded-by-you-and-me-jaunt to Singapore, for the purposes of studying how the Singaporese set up their pension fund and hopefully make similar policy and regulatory amendments to their enabling legislation, the FNPF Act -- which by the way folks will be reviewed without proper workers representation at the Board level and more importantly illegally passed without a fully functional parliament.

So without proper workers representation, it is no wonder that the evolving frankenstein that is the FNPF is forgetting their place as mere custodians of our pension funds and therefore instigating bad policy decisions such as:
  1. Permitting withdrawals for investments on companies that the FNPF perversely deems as "investment-worthy" -- a sure-fire recipe for corruption and collusion (and a perfect case in point is a current board member who is employed for the Fosters Group -- one of the FNPF's "preferred" investments).

  2. Reducing educational assistance to low-income workers and additionally inconveniencing customers to pay for calls to their complaints officers who will after all merely appease them.

  3. Reviewing the institutions of higher education whom members should ultimately have the liberty to choose to invest in.

    This role and certainly the legal mandate and expertise to assess educational and investment-worthiness against Fiji's productivity needs, resides with the Ministry of Education in conjunction with the Training and Productivity Authority of Fiji (TPAF) who already have a process dealing with institutions wanting to set up shop here. What has transpired here is an overreach of major proportions by the FNPF and perhaps a gross laxity in assesssments undertaken by the Ministry of Education and TPAF.

    If FNPF members are complaining about the standards of education they are getting from certain institutions, exactly how many of them are making the complaints as opposed to the members who do believe they are getting value for money from these same institutions, which would thereby justify a major policy re-direction like this affecting all members?

    In any case, it is incumbent upon the Ministry of Education's/TPAF's initial assessments of these operators to ensure that a fair and transparent complaints/customer service process is made public and embedded in the set-up mechanisms of these institutions. It would be interesting to see whether the University of Fiji, which immediately lauded the unfair removal of their competition, has themselves such a mechanism in place.

    Already we are told that there could be a major set-back to the economy in terms of tourism by a shoddily thought out policy such as this. Furthermore the view lacking in this tunnel-visioned policy is that when more worthy higher education institutions are set up, it generates more local employment which is what the country needs, and at the end of the day is what should be in FNPF's interest.

    Other perspectives about fairness in local institutions vs overseas institutions are also baseless. And yes we must make the point about living in a global economy not only because it allows for competition regardless of an institution's geography, but because the bottom line of globalisation is that the customer, at all times, has the liberty to choose who is worthy of their investment dollars.

    Hopefully one day workers in Fiji will also be able to choose who is worthy of their pension fund deductions as opposed to a giant insensitive monopoly such as the FNPF.

  4. Stagnating and/or ceasing investment projects (which theoretically are supposed to bring in higher returns to us) such as the Suva Bayview Hospital, the Momi Bay development, the Grand Pacific Hotel upgrade, the Lautoka Retail Complex, the Natadola project etc.

  5. Changing the housing policy.

Now we're not totally unreasonable and are also appreciative of the fact that the FNPF is not a bank nor a welfare fund but the fact of the matter is that when the majority of the funders of the FNPF do not have a valid and credible voice advocating on their behalf within the institution or adequately representing their interests, then the entity can only expect to be treated as a welfare fund because members would prefer to use it all up themselves rather than have the illegal board and management fritter their money away frivolously.

Let's not forget that the law permits the FNPF to obtain 8% of workers salaries every fortnight/month without breaking a sweat, but as a minimum members who forgo this percentage of their hard-earned sweat expect to see some tangible returns on investment, and preferably before they start inching towards their graves.

Incidently folks we STILL await the FNPF Annual Reports of 2008 and 2009, amidst earlier falsified notions of their own financial year calendar followed by further false assurances (read: lies) of our getting copies by December 2009.

We now hear that we will get the Annual Reports only after the illegal cabinet has gone through them (translation: cabinet offers to become the whipping boy because they know they can't be hounded and they will stall the release of the reports indefinitely because they know their sins will be revealed).

If the FNPF's 2007 performance is anything to go by whereby they're paying out (which should be a key feature in the 2009 Annual Report because of the military regime's forced retirement policy) more than they're raking in (backed up by stagnated investments), members can pretty much surmise that their fears of their retirement funds being hijacked to fund the illegal regime's deficits continues to be (as has been) the current norm.

No comments: