Saturday, November 8, 2014

Workers’ pension fracas: Still, the government has questions to answer

Sunday, October 26, 2014
Folks, the impasse over the management of the second tier of workers' pension funds drags on as the striking workers dig in and the government struggles to offer credible explanations to resolve it. Clearly, the government's approach to handling the impasse falls short and raise eyebrows the more its spokespersons attempt clarifying issues or justifying the government's unilateral decisions/actions affecting the interests and the after-service lives of hundreds of thousands of workers.
Not until the government comes out with something convincing and reliable to allay the fears, doubts, and concerns of the workers, I don't think that the impasse can be resolved amicably. No court action against the workers and their leaders will solve the problem. Neither will any high-sounding, bombastic, but useless public utterances that lack substance. And that substance is unmistakable: how much have the workers contributed toward their pension so far and where is the money? How secure is that money to guarantee that a worker who retires will get his/her pension promptly?

Within that context, news reports alleging that the Employment and Labour Relations  Minister Haruna Iddrisu has stated in a media interaction that the second tier pension contribution of public sector workers has been invested (in treasury bills) and yielded “very good returns” rather inflame passions. (See: http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/artikel.php?ID=332163).
Many questions arise therefrom: Who took that decision to invest workers' funds in such a venture without prior consent of the contributors? Does the fact that the government is the employer justify the unilateral action to invest the contributions in that venture?
The truth is that once the contributions belong to the workers (apparently because the employer has made provision for that), the sole owners/beneficiaries should be the contributors (workers) and not the employer. The government doesn't have any fiduciary right to the contributions to determine how they should be invested or disbursed!!
More crucially, why invest the funds in treasury bills (a round-robin kind of situation in which the government takes the contributions to do business with and to return them to chest with interest)? So, the government is just recycling the contributions in its own quarters instead of channelling them into productive sectors. Why the treasury bills? Couldn't more profitable and high-yielding ventures have been identified for this investment? Many questions.
I remember very well the sordid practice by District Secretaries (under Rawlings) or the CEOs of the Metropolitan/Municipal/District Assemblies to invest funds allocated to their Assemblies in treasury bills, which the government (I think under Mills) strongly opposed and warned against. The reason was that investing government's own money in treasury bills was counter-productive. Apparently, some unscrupulous characters behind such investments ended up slicing off the interests for themselves. In effect, then, investing in treasury bills isn't an attractive option. So, why invest workers' contributions therein?
Now, back to some aspects of Haruna Iddrisu's utterances as reported. He is said to have "charged the media to conduct investigations at the Central Bank and ascertain if funds have been disbursed as alleged by some of the workers." A useless assignment!!
The Minister  justified government's delay in making payments, saying the government was seeking to protect the fund against any future risks. What guarantee is there to support this assertion? Of course, there is ample reason to raise the level of apprehension, given the instances of corruption all over the place (GYEEDA, SUBAH, Brazil 2014, and many others). Why shouldn't the workers be more than afraid?
He also said. "We have over 440 million with the Bank of Ghana yet to be disbursed, it is just the structure and the mechanism that we disagree on, the president has a duty and responsibility to protect the fund against any risks."  Frightening revelation!! How much is the total contribution of workers from which 440 million was taken out and invested in the Bank of Ghana? Too much knee jerking going on here, Mr. Minister!!
Were the workers and their leaders involved in all these moves? If not, why not? The government isn't telling the story that workers want to hear.  Would Mr. Iddrisu (or the government, for that matter) have come out to tell workers the fate of their contributions had they not embarked on this strike action? Why keep the workers in the dark in a matter that is pivotal to their future lives? Too bad for the government at this stage.
No wonder, then, that there is no trust for the government. As has been reported, union members are disturbed that their leadership have held "countless meetings and interactions" with the National Pensions Regulatory Authority (the institution mandated to oversee pensions in Ghana) but such deliberations have been fruitless because of the inadequacy of trust.
Folks, do you see how this simple issue is speedily exposing the government's lack of decorum and forthrightness in dealing with an important issue of this sort? By being so "unbecoming", it is losing grounds among workers and will be the loser in the end. The political capital is slipping away, which will be difficult for the government to claw back unless it levels with workers for them to know the truth and to be persuaded that something good is in the pipeline for them.
Already controversies surrounding conditions of service have made the government unpopular in the estimation of organized labour. So, why add more to it? Indeed, governance in our time is worse than a child's play thing. Too much fiddling!!
I shall return…
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