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FNPF Board passing the buck (FT 18/2/2020)

18/02/2020

FNPF Board passing the buck (FT 18/2/2020)
Professor Wadan Narsey

 

Attempting to rebut an earlier article of mine (“FNPF: the gloss and the truth” (FT 28/12/2019) FNPF put out a full page article supposedly authored by by Ms Millie Low (FNPF’s General Manager Business Transformation)  titled “Not gloss, just facts”  (FT 23 January 2020).

I urge FNPF Members and the former pensioners in particular to think about two aspects of the response by Ms. Millie Low.

First is the substance of her attempted rebuttals.

Second, and more importantly in my opinion, there is the “less than courageous” refusal of the FNPF Board to respond to my original article while “passing the buck” to an FNPF employee who was not all responsible for the alleged “reforms” that she has been asked to defend.

The 2011 Reform and robbery

I am glad that Millie Low has this subtitle (“The 2011 reform and robbery”) in her response because “robbery” of the private property of existing pensioners was at the core of the criticisms in my original article.

I had specifically pointed out that the word “reform” could only be used with reference to new pensioners who were being offered the choice of taking much lower pension rates of 9% or taking their lump sum savings.

When the unelected Fiji Government then decided that they would reduce the pension rates of existing pensioners who already had “signed contracts” with FNPF, I argued that this amounted to reducing these pensioners’ private property by force and by decree.

I urge Millie Low given her current position to read the original FNPF Act which stated in Article 4 that “FNPF Board shall be a body corporate and shall, … have perpetual succession …. The Board may sue and be sued in its corporate name and may enter into contracts.”

I have continuously argued (for nine years now) that this “breaking of contracts” was challengeable in court as was being done through the David Burness/Shameem case.

Indeed, the first consultants’ Promontory Report clearly stated “Any retrospective adjustment of existing pension benefits would be difficult under contract law…  it is not further considered in this paper”.

I have argued that the Bainimarama Government then clearly understood that their actions would probably be judged to be illegal by Fiji’s judiciary, because a decree was promulgated, stopping the Burness/Shameem case being heard.

That prevention of the case being heard under Fiji’s laws then was continued by specific provisions in the 2013 Constitution, thereby implicitly confirming that the so-called “reform” of the contracts of existing pensioners, was arguably illegal and amounted to a “robbery” of their private property by the FNPF Board and the Bainimarama Government.

Note that the responsibility for these actions did not lie with any FNPF employee, even if the FNPF CEO then, Aisake Taito, took it upon himself and others in the FNPF Management, to publicly campaign for the changes being enforced., just as Millie Low is currently doing (on whose instructions?).

That responsibility lay with the FNPF Board who were implementing the decision by the Bainimarama Government. I come to this later.

There are many other irrelevant arguments made by Millie Low, to which I respond in brief.

Other claims by Millie Low

Millie Low criticizes the alleged earlier “cross-subsidization” that was taking place as if it justified the “reform”.

No one disputes that there were some pensioners who were getting generous returns (between 16% and 25%) on their balances and for many years.  But that was a risk they took as there were also many who died within a few years of signing the pension contracts.

Regardless, it was FNPF which offered those rates and signed legal contracts at those rates, which under law, MUST be adhered to, even if one could argue that for these pensioners who survived for more than ten years, there was some “cross-subsidization” taking place.

But “cross-subsidization” of Fiji citizens takes place all the time with every single Government granting free education, health, bus fares, and many other services, every day of the year.

There has been no convincing evidence that the Fund was unsustainable if those existing pensions had been continued, while new pensions were offered at whatever low rate the Board then decided.

Note that not a single one of the early consultancy reports has ever been released to the public by the FNPF Board, ample indication of the contempt they have for FNPF Members and the pensioners.

Millie Low seems not to worry at all that 95% of those reaching retiring age, are refusing to take pensions.

How extraordinary that a senior manager of FNPF does not see this as a problem for an alleged “pension fund”.

How extraordinary that Millie Low sees nothing wrong the FNPF Annual Report devoting masses of glossy pages to photos of the staff and members, and masses of relatively useless  tables of data, should refuse to have even one table and one graph that shows how the “pension take up rate” has shockingly declined from above 20% before the “reforms” to stagnate at around 5% for the last five years.

And how extraordinary that Millie Low implies that Fiji’s trade unions do not have the capacity to nominate qualified and capable people onto the FNPF Board but that the Bainimarama Government does.

But it is totally wrong of me to ask these questions of Millie Low, who signed her name to the Fiji Times article of 18 January 2020.

Who were the cowards who should have signed that article?

Who is accountable?

FNPF’s Annual Report for 2011 declared among its “Values” “Being answerable and having the courage and honesty to take ownership of our actions”.

Given that the alleged “reforms” took place in 2011, one can reasonably say that it was the FNPF Board then (chaired by Ajit Godagoda, with members being Taito Waqa, Tom Ricketts, Tevita Kuruvakadua, and Sashi Singh) who had full responsibility for signing the Annual Report, and implementing the Bainimarama Government’s alleged reforms.  Some of them I would have considered my friends in the old days.

None of them have personally responded to my article of 18 December 2020. Where have been the principles of accountability, honesty and courage, that were boasted of in the 2011 Report they signed (and for several years after).

Note that the “accountability” statement in the “Values” of FNPF has now disappeared from FNPF’s Annual Reports. How revealing is that of a deliberate decision by the Board to not hold themselves accountable? Changes do not occur by themselves.

I reiterate, no FNPF employee then (including Aisake Taito the CEO) or today (including CEO Jaoji Koroi or Millie Low) can be held responsible for the breaking of contracts with existing pensioners.

That decision was made by the FNPF Board knuckling under to the illegal military Bainimarama Government at the time, and for some of them, forever ruining their personal records, for God knows what personal benefits they got out of it.

The FNPF pensioners who lost out in the 2011 Reforms can surely ask Millie Low, who exactly instructed her to put out that article in FT (18/1/2020)?

I would guess that that instruction for Millie Low to sign that article must have come from the FNPF CEO Jaoji Koroi, who I would bet my bottom dollar would have gone through every line in that article before giving his approval for sending to the Fiji Times.]

Except that he did not put his own name down as the author.

Was he acting under instruction from the FNPF Board and its Chairman Ajit Godagoda who was amply praised in the article for the “reform”.

So we can ask, why did the Board Chairman then (who apparently has been now replaced) not himself sign the article rebutting my earlier article?

Readers might wish to recollect that Godagoda’s normal employer is CJ Patel, a receiver of many special benefits from the Fiji Government easily classified as “cross-subsidization” (e.g. its newspaper Fiji Sun receiving all the government ads denied to the far more popular Fiji Times) that Millie Low’s article found abhorrent when it benefited some pensioners.

Surely, someone in Fiji’s professional organizations (like Fiji Institute of Auditors and Directors) can see the importance of informing “employees” of public enterprises, even CEOs (like Jaoji Koroi) or senior managers (like Millie Low) that they should not take personal responsibility to defend decisions by Boards, then and now?

I assure Millie Low that I do not criticize her personally in this article but the FNPF Board members at that time and behind them of course the illegal Bainimarama Government at that time.

I suggest that all employees in Fiji’s public enterprises think carefully before they put their names to articles or advertisements defending decisions by their Boards.

Post script

The FNPF Board has been changed with a new Chairman and new members.

As I have asked before, do any of the new appointees to the FNPF Board, have any financial interest in companies given large FNPF contracts?

Is there anyone in Fiji demanding to know whether that is the case?

When are the union leaders of Fiji going to show any backbone to defend their members’ interests?

 

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