Row over pension, insurance probe

Row over pension, insurance probe Mr Manungo
Mr Manungo

Mr Manungo

Darlington Musarurwa Deputy News Editor—
A ROW has erupted between some members of the commission of inquiry that was set up by Government to investigate the conversion of pension and insurance policies from the Zimbabwe-dollar era to the multi-currency system. One of the commissioners has since resigned and dissociated himself from additions that were made to the report, especially after March 3 this year.

The Ministry of Finance and Economic Development — viewed as conflicted, as an authority that oversaw the pensions and insurance industry when some questionable practices occurred — is accused of massaging the report and making some input that could jeopardise both the findings and the recommendations. However, the finance ministry disputes the allegations, arguing that it did not interfere in the commission’s work.

Information gathered by The Herald suggests that one of the eight members of the commission, Mr Tarusenga, tendered his resignation on October 13, 2017 for “having been excluded in all inquiry proceedings that led to the additions (including some additions that I found contentious) after the 3rd March 2017 in the final report,” reads part of his resignation letter dated October 13, 2017.

“The inquiry was subjective, relying mainly on sentimental views of commissioners and dispensing with literature review on many important matters of pensions and insurance provision in the terms of reference. It is my desire that the minister be appraised of this my decision to recuse myself from the commission and to dissociate myself with the commission final report, in keeping with due process.”

The Ministry of Finance, through Mr Cuthbert Munjoma, who was the commission’s secretary, is mainly accused of hurrying commissioners through the report and, in the process, setting impracticable deadlines for the report to be completed. Initially, the eight-member commission, which was appointed by President Robert Mugabe on August 19, 2015, was supposed to finish its work within nine months, but it became apparent that the set deadline could not be met as some companies were reluctant to cooperate.

Justice George Smith, the commission chair, had to subpoena some of the companies to testify between July 27 to August 3 last year. A request that was made by some of the commissioners to extend the inquiry to August this year, which was reportedly agreed to by then Finance Minister Mr Patrick Chinamasa, was later on cut to December 31, 2016.

But by the end of the new deadline, “the commission failed to produce anything in the form of the report”. Again, another deadline set for the end of January this year was missed. It is believed that the report began to take some shape by March 3, 2017, but it had “some huge gaps”. Even after the expiry of the commission’s mandate, the report has not yet been presented to President Mugabe.

The gaps in the report, according to Mr Tarusenga, were conveniently used to add the controversial input at the instigation of Mr Munjoma, who is believed to have usurped Justice Smith’s role. Justice Smith was understood to have been unwell for some time during the subsistence of the commission. Efforts to get a comment from the commission’s chair were unsuccessful last week.

According to Mr Tarusenga, the interference of the finance ministry led to “the objectionable report additions after commission tenure”, “the use of subjective decision-making in the commission, leading to misleading or wrong inquiry findings; inappropriate inquiry conclusions and recommendations” and “imprudent commission decision to abandon communication strategy, leading to speculated report about inquiry progress”.

In addition to allegations of harassing commissioners, particularly those who were not aligned to his thinking and mission, Mr Munjoma is accused of doing the bidding of some powerful officials in the Ministry of Finance, who had promised him a rewarding job. Coincidentally, Mr Munjoma is now employed by the Insurance and Pension Commission (IPEC), which falls under the Ministry of Finance.

Worryingly, commissioners disagreed on how policyholders would be compensated, the quantum of compensation and which institution will preside over the compensation. While the Ministry of Finance pushed for IPEC to handle the compensations, some commissioners were lobbying for an independent commission. Again, while the Finance Ministry wanted policyholders to be compensated from “surviving assets”, this was viewed as unfair, especially in circumstances where the assets fell below contractual obligations as a result of fraud, negligence and overcharging.

But Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development Mr Willard Manungo said the process was conducted procedurally. “The Ministry is not aware of any misunderstandings amongst members of the commission of inquiry,” he said. “The Ministry representative (Mr Cuthbert Munjoma) served as secretary to the commission, hence the commissioners made all decisions, thus there was no conflict of interest. Further, no concerns were raised by commissioners regarding the Ministry’s representative throughout the tenure of the commission.”

Mr Manungo said the deadline was extended to May 2017 in order to finalise the report. The report, however, has not yet been presented to President Mugabe. The demutualisation process conducted by many insurance companies when the country experienced economic challenges was also contentious.

Some commissioners and experts say the Ministry of Finance slept on the job when companies such as Old Mutual demutualised and, as a result, “expropriated shareholding” that was supposed to accrue to local policyholders. Government, they argue, should have overseen the process. Assisting Justice Smith in the eight-member commission were Dr Godfrey Kanyenze, Mr Anesu Daka, Mr Martin Tarusenga, Mr Brains Muchemwa, Mr Itai Chirume, Mrs Violet Chitandwa and Mr George Dikinya.

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