Editorial Comment: NSSA should make good investment choices NSSA

News last week that Government had asked NSSA to gradually increase pension disbursements from the current $60 a month to $150 by end of March should be great music to pensioners. Life is hard for the average employee, it can only be harder for the pensioner who has very few options open to him, coupled with ailments and medical expenses that come with old age.

We therefore appreciate where Government is coming from. The least we can say is that even $150 is not enough. That is to assume that the national pension fund can in fact afford that. A lot of legitimate questions are being raised on the feasibility of such an increase.

That unfortunately has more to do with NSSA management than the general state of the economy. NSSA was established in the late 1980s. Since then it has been getting monthly contributions from struggling Zimbabweans as part of statutory obligations.

Most of those contributions have gone to waste because of extremely poor management decisions. Their choice of investment vehicles has been criminal to say the least. Management has over the years wasted pension contributions investing in what amounts to speculative shares and money market instruments. They also put money in new banks apparently without any due diligence being carried out.

Much of that investment was lost and no one was punished or made to pay. Of late management has been paying itself handsome salaries from pension contributions, not from profits generated from any wise investment decisions. They have also used the contributions to reward their employees either through vehicle loans or housing schemes.

All these projects have little to do with growing the fund for the benefit of those who make sacrifices from their meagre pay.

Why should the poor finance the lavish life styles of NSSA management?

Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Minister Prisca Mupfumira correctly observed last week that NSSA has several investments, some performing well, others not so well. The problem is that there are more in the negative category than on the positive side.

It is for that reason that while we commend the spirit behind Government’s decision to have NSSA pay more, we wonder whether financially it has the capacity to do so. And this comes at a time when there are increasing calls, misguided in our view, for pensionable age to be reduced. The logic is that many people have been retrenched over the years or that life expectancy of Zimbabweans has gone down.

But that is a dangerously short-sighted view of things. If there are fewer people making contributions to NSSA that means there are fewer funds to issue out. Having more early beneficiaries can only worsen the situation to a point where we risk NSSA failing to meet the most minimal pension payouts.

But that is a diversion.

The point is that NSSA management should not gamble with people’s money in making investment decisions. It holds that money in trust. It must exercise strict fiduciary duty over it, the way banks do with depositors’ money. That calls for prudent investment decisions, minimal internal expenses, and a genuine desire to grow those pension funds.

That means, without necessarily adding to administrative costs, there must be a body exercising oversight on how NSSA invests our pension contributions. People are not sacrificing for the enjoyment of NSSA employees or for management to experiment with those funds on risky “investments” knowing there will be no consequences for failure.

Pay and benefits must be performance-based, as a reward for good work. That way, management should be motivated to invest money in projects which have the highest potential for a high return. That being the case, NSSA should be able to pay reasonable pensions on a sustainable basis.

That means Government must take a hard look at what is happening at NSSA at the moment and whether it is consistent with its expectations of what it should pay pensioners monthly.

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