In February 2023, Ziscosteel Pension Fund through its Board of Trustees, made a Petition to Parliament to exercise its (Parliament) role on the Executive to have their pensions honoured. The Fund’s pensioners have not been paid since they became due in August 2016.
The parties with the responsibilities to ensure these pensions are paid timeously all failed to have the pensions paid. These are the Board of Trustees, First Mutual Life Assurance, Insurance and Pension Commission (IPEC).
In terms of the Pension and Provident Funds Act, under which these pensions are saved as contributions are made throughout a pensioner’s career, the Board of Trustees represents the Ziscosteel Pension Fund (the Fund), where the Fund houses all pensioners and other pension fund members.
This Board of Trustees is elected by the pensioners and other members of the pension fund to ensure it acts in the best interests of the pensioners. Its responsibilities include ensuring the pension fund is administered professionally, its solvency is maintained, it’s invested to meet pensioner’s pension benefits without fail and to keep funds vested by pensioners safe (custodianship).
Except for the largest pension schemes, Boards of Trustees typically outsource these responsibilities to insurance companies, and for this reason insurance companies in Zimbabwe carry out these functions for Pension Funds including custodianship. In order to ensure security of pensioners’ investments in the Pension Funds, the Pension and Provident Funds Act of Parliament provides for the competent execution of these roles and for the accountabilities thereof.
The regulator and supervisor of pension and insurance industries is charged in terms of this Act of Parliament to ensure all the actors execute their roles such that pension benefits are delivered as per the various contractual agreements specified in the Pension and Provident Funds Act.
Parliament of Zimbabwe charged the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Finance and Economic Development to look into the Petition submitted by Zisco Steel Pension Fund Pensioners.
This Portfolio Committee called for evidence from various parties provided for in the Pension and Provident Funds Act, namely First Mutual Life, the Board of Trustees and IPEC. It turned out that the Zisco Steel Pension Fund Board of Trustees was not actually representative of the generality of Zisco Steel Pension Fund pensioners.
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It had all along not acted in these pensioners’ interests, having apparently been hand-picked to suite the interests of First Mutual, and Zisco Steel Company as a business. IPEC had all along not acted on this irregularity despite complaints from the generality of Zisco Pensioners apparently because its interests were not aligned with the provisions of the Pensions and Provident Funds Act to protect these Zisco and other pensioners in Zimbabwe.
The generality of Zisco pensioners having long identified the conflicted interests inherent in IPEC and of course the Board of Trustees, had instead organised to protect their interests and sought the advice of Zimbabwe Pensions and Insurance Rights Trust (ZimPIRT). ZimPIRT evaluated the benefits due to each of several pensioners starting from 2021 and submitted reports in turn to the hand-picked Board of Trustees. The reports essentially served as letters of demand by the pensioners, and some of them proceeded to sue the Pension Fund and Board of Trustees.
In circumstances when the hand-picked Trustees were now called to account for their actions in court and elsewhere by the generality of the pensioners, and in circumstances when there were dereliction of duties by IPEC, First Mutual and the incumbent hand-picked Board of Trustees, and when there was possible blame games, the hand-picked Board of Trustees apparently panicked and sought the intervention of Parliament through the Petition. Thus the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee found it necessary to invite ZimPIRT and provide evidence as well.
Having deliberated the evidence, submitted by the various parties ZimPIRT as a representative of the generality of the Ziscosteel pensioners has just been appraised by Portfolio Committee that the “Report is being proof-read awaiting tabling”, apparently in the National Assembly. The Committee through its Clerk however further advised that ZimPIRT could not have sight of the Report before tabling in the National Assembly.
This as it may be, it is apparent that all other parties that provided evidence to the Committee had sight of this Report. This stance by the Committee is a repetition of what transpired prior to the passing of the now prejudicial Pension and Provident Funds Act.
The apparent Committee stance against ZimPRT captures the Parliamentary Democratic process by which problems faced by pensioners and pension provision services nationally should be resolved, and also paralyses the governance structures and hence processes intended by the then existing Pensions And Provident Funds Act, to deliver on rightful, lawful pension benefits due to pensioners. The Parliamentary Portfolio Committee is duty bound to be impartial and ensure that all key valid evidence is considered and that the other parties in particular IPEC, First Mutual and the hand-picked unrepresentative Board of Trustees do not bear on the Portfolio Committee report-writing process to contort evidence in favour of these parties and against the generality of Zisco Steel Pension Fund pensioners as happened with the passing of a prejudicial Pension and Provident Funds Act. IPEC, First Mutual and the unrepresentative Board of Trustees have failed for the past seven years, and in good governance, must not ever be party to proceedings to recover Ziscosteel pensioner pension benefits, and Parliamentary process of report writing must be investigated.
- Tarusenga is general manager of Zimbabwe Pensions and Insurance Rights. — [email protected]., +263772 889 716. Opinions expressed herein are those of the author.