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A contribution by Marthinuz Fabianus, managing director

Since some 20 years ago, various attempts have been made by the Social Security Commission (SSC) to come up with a broadly acceptable and viable policy and legal framework for the operationalisation of the NPF. Over the many years, various proposals have been submitted with the help of mainly foreign experts on social security. It goes without saying that the various proposals that have not seen the light of day have cost the SSC and obviously the taxpayer huge amounts of money, which surely have not been quantified to date.

In considering previous proposals for operationalising the NPF, they have all without any known exception, based their suggested models on social protection schemes of first world countries and generally countries with much bigger economies in a typical ‘copy and paste’ approach. This is with regard to key aspects such as contributions and benefit design, governance framework, management and administration of the fund, participation and the consideration of occupational pension funds, investments of funds and regulatory supervision etc.

When I was at Social Security, we were getting close to finalising a policy framework that would have seen the NPF being introduced for the working class that currently does not save towards retirement. Based on 2016 labour surveys and NAMFISA’s statistics, the number of formally employed persons who could deductively contribute to an occupational pension fund was estimated at around 230 000. The draft policy was truly based on an inclusive tripartite spirit of employer, labour and government, where a defined contribution fund allowing for exemption of existing occupational funds was being considered, but with a solidarity contribution element to subsidize costs and to provide certain social benefits. Provision was also made for SSC to manage the NPF but with a strong emphasis on governance structures being put in place.

It seems however, SSC has since taken a completely different direction in the way they want to structure the NPF. There is now talk of a need to consider a Defined Benefits fund with an adequate redistributive element as being advised by experts from the International Labour Organisation (ILO).  These experts are guiding us on a path of pension fund structures that may be working for western countries, but is sure to fail and lead us into trouble as our situation is completely different as a developing nation.

There is a need for a fresh approach to considering the NPF. The time I served on Social Security Commission (SSC) board enabled me to get good grasp and perspective on the key issues involved in the considerations for establishing the NPF from the vantage point of Government, labour, employers and SSC itself. With sufficient local experience of occupational pension funds and the long term insurance industry which is a 5th player to the equation, I believe we can build our own thoughts for how the NPF can work to best answer most of the questions emanating from all these stakeholders referred to.

Namibia has a well-developed occupational pension fund industry. An existing industry has been established and GIPF is part of the existing industry. There have been some outdated laws that have allowed GIPF and other occupational pension funds to grow to where pension fund assets are today the backbone of our economy. Just about every working Namibian does not save anything from their salary, except what they are forced to put away as a result of their employer sponsored pension fund. Given the existing infrastructure aided by employers, service providers, and a legal framework that has been working very well in favour of occupational pension funds, my view is that we must use the tested and well developed infrastructure to our absolute advantage.

Before SSC closes the curtain and surprises us with another western inspired policy framework for the operationalisation of the NPF, an opportunity must be given to a locally engineered solution.

The proverbial “devil is in the detail”, but it is my resolve to share through a series of articles the suggested fresh approach to considering a NPF. In the approach, consideration will be given to the noble socio political objectives and reasons for the provision and need for a NPF as provided for in the Namibian Social Security Act. I will also make a high level attempt to explore and appreciate the conceivable and apparent reasons why previous attempts and proposals by the SSC to introduce the NPF may have stopped in their tracks. A rationale and basis for the approach we propose be taken for the operationalisation of the NPF will be explored, before exploring examples of model national pension fund schemes. The conclusion to our minds is a fresh, yet seemingly obvious and practical solution based on our existing unique local strengths and successful experience of managing pension funds that should provide a wining solution to the tripartite partnership of government, labour and employers.

 Important notice and disclaimer
This article summarises the understanding, observation and notes of the author and lays no claim on accuracy, correctness or completeness. Retirement Fund Solutions Namibia (Pty) Ltd does not accept any liability for the content of this contribution and no decision should be taken on the basis of the information contained herein before having confirmed the detail with the relevant party. Any views expressed herein are those of the author and not necessarily those of Retirement Fund Solutions.

 

By Marthinuz Fabianus

I was tremendously impressed when I recently came across a letter from The Minister of Justice, Honourable Sakeus Shangala wherein he requests various industry bodies for their written submissions for the drafting of a new succession law (Succession Bill, 2018). The Minister stated in his letter; “As yet, there is not a draft Bill available that can be shared with the industry. Instead, I am requesting written input for the industry to guide the drafting of the first version of the Bill.”

I believe this is the right way we must approach legislative changes in our country. I accept this may not work in all cases and there are probably proven cases of this not having worked, however by and large, if policy makers adopt a broad early consultative approach, there is less likely to be resistance and they will find that when laws are eventually passed, affected implementing institutions would be better prepared and the costs of the legislative process is most likely reduced with such approach. I underscore that policy makers must with any significant amendment and when replacing an existing law, follow an early consultation and broadly inclusive process, inform stakeholders of policy objectives, offer indications of possible ways of achieving the objectives, outline broad issues that should conceivably be considered, suggest any international best practice likely to be considered, project timelines for possible implementation etcetera.

RFIN received a request from the Ministry of Finance on 11 September 2018 to submit comments on the Draft Income Tax Act Amendment Bill 2018 pertaining to “wording conflicts and matters of practical implementation”. This is for all I am aware the first request of its kind from the Ministry of Finance to RFIN. Although the Draft Income Tax Amendment Bill 2018 only deals with minor amendments to the Income Tax Act as envisaged per 2018/2019 budget statement, this is to me a big win and image boost to RFIN. This means that RFIN is at long last being counted as legitimate and substantive institution representing the interests of retirement funds.

This now brings me to the point I wish to make which relates to the past, present and future of RFIN. RFIN is a retirement fund sector interest party which seeks to represent, promote and advance the interests of the industry. RFIN has been in operation since 1994 and has been the voice of pension funds and their members and service providers on various issues impacting on pension funds. As an industry body, the institute has had its fair share of challenges, some of its own making and others have been external factors. Internally, the institute has previously been dogged by infighting and also the disappearance of funds at the hands of administrative staff. Externally, RFIN has been perceived by its members as not being responsive enough and by NAMFISA as a body merely representing the interests of service providers.

It is true that service providers have at times dominated representation on the board of RFIN. This however has been due to the apathy of pension fund trustees in taking up leadership positions of the institute. Contrary to other industry bodies such as the Institute of Bankers, the Life Assurers Association of Namibia (LAAN) and previous associations for asset and unit trust managers etcetera, where heads of the affected member institutions get involved in the running of their industry associations, the same cannot be said about RFIN. For some reason, heads of service entities as well as senior executives serving on pension fund boards that are members of RFIN have over the years shied away from standing for positions at RFIN. This has obviously robbed the institute of much needed astute and dynamic leadership and reduced this all-important industry body to only a shadow of its real potential. As a result, the institute has over the years been served mostly by junior staff of service provider entities and mostly new comers to the industry, for whom in cases, the appointment to the board of RFIN was to build their CV’s.

RFIN has to enter a new era where the institution has to rise from the ashes and come to the real service of the industry. I believe from what I have personally seen about the institute over the past year that there is reason to become optimistic. The institute represents more than 80% of the pension funds industry in terms of both number of active members and pensioners of registered funds as well as pension fund assets under management of member funds, with GIPF being its single largest member.  The institute hosted probably what can be seen as its most successful retirement funds conference at the Dome in Swakopmund last year. The institute is well on course to build and improve on that successful event by hosting the 2018 event at the same venue on 27 and 28 September. By the time you read this article, you would be able to judge the success of the 2018 conference should you partake. However, most important to stress is that the role and mandate of RFIN goes far beyond the hosting of a successful annual event. RFIN has to successfully stand as credible representative and contributor to national policy discourse. RFIN needs to change the sometimes negative perception of being against the industry’s development agenda, a lobby group or being a mouthpiece for service providers. This can only happen when RFIN’s board is occupied by high calibre persons playing an active role and mainly representing pension funds not linked to service providers. The challenges facing on-going management and sustainable existence of pension funds are far too many not to have a vibrant body like RFIN.
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