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Zisco pension fund trustees slam activist

TRUSTEES of the Ziscosteel pension fund have slammed a pension rights campaigner that has been pushing for an immediate settlement of up to US$1 billion in outstanding pensions to its members.

The Zimbabwe Pensions and Insurance Rights Trust (ZimPIRT) last month filed a petition with parliament, telling legislators to take action over the predicament of 6 200 Zisco pensioners and ex-workers who have waited for six years to get their pensions.

In its petition, ZimPIRT said 20 of the ex-Zisco staff were owed up to US$3 million by the state-run firm when it collapsed.

This brings to about US$1 billion the combined amount for 6 200 members.But Benedict Moyo, who heads the 63-year-old fund’s board of trustees, has fired back.

In a letter to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Budget, Finance, Economics and Planning dated February 7, 2023, Moyo said ZimPIRT’s figures were flawed.

He said his membership, who saved the steel operation for a combined 180 000 years, were worth much less.

Moyo told parliament that Zisco must rely on a separate report presented to legislators by pensions regulator, Insurance and Pensions Commission (Ipec).

He demanded that Martin Tarusenga, general manager at ZimPIRT, must submit his qualifications to parliament during another meeting scheduled for this month.

Tarusenga is a former head of actuarial consultancy at insurance outfit, First Mutual Life (FML), before moving to establish ZimPIRT.

The Zisco trustees have rejected a ZW$39 million pay-out offered by government, which has taken over the Zisco debt.

The steel producer slipped into bankruptcy about a decade ago after teetering on the brink for a long time, but months after a parliamentary probe nailed a string of elites for its dramatic fall.

It had already abandoned remitting workers’ pensions to FML from around 2007, according to official documents.

Last week, FML CEO Douglas Hoto said the fund’s account did not have enough money. He said FML was ready to make the pay-outs as soon as government funded the account.

In its petition ZimPIRT slammed FML for expending on “hefty executive pecks” while turning a blind eye on requests by “people who saved for their old age”.

In his letter to parliament dated February 7, Moyo said legislators must tread carefully when dealing with the ZimPIRT petition.

“The presentation by ZimPIRT (to parliament) was flawed and misleading to those who are not in the know,” Moyo said in the letter.

“ZimPIRT stated that the Ziscosteel Pension Board of Trustees is responsible for paying out the pensioners and the board of trustees had failed to do that. ZimPIRT is representing only 20 members out of the 6 194 pensioners. Their 20 clients’ contributions amount to US$3 million.

“ZimPIRT recommended that parliament should set up a commission of inquiry to investigate why the pensioners were not paid when they were retrenched in 2016. When ZimPIRT asserted that the formulae used in 2009 was wrong, they did not back the assumption with facts and point of law.

“The board of trustees and its members are not represented by ZimPIRT and as the board of trustees we have never engaged with him. The parliamentary committee requested Ipec and ZimPIRT to submit their reports before the end of this month (February). The ZimPIRT report should include Mr Tarusenga’s educational qualifications,” Moyo added.

In his petition early last month, Tarusenga had queried government’s involvement in the pension fund, saying this was “downright irregular and illegal”.

“The board of trustees of a pension fund controls the affairs of the pension fund – they are the ultimate authority to what happens to the fund and its members,” Tarusenga had said.

“In accordance with the then existing Pension and Provident Funds Act, it is the Ziscosteel pension fund board of trustees that is responsible for paying out pension benefits due to the members, timeously.

“Against a background where government and Ziscosteel company now have to pay the pensions, the board of trustees should explain explicitly to this portfolio committee how government and the company got involved in the non-payment of member’s pensions. This involvement of government and Ziscosteel company should not have happened, is downright irregular and illegal.

“The Zisco debt assumption Bill referred to in this petition leads to the conclusion that Ziscosteel pension fund had a debt which government has to assume. It is not declared to what extent the pension fund is in debt, and how the fund ended up in debt. The portfolio committee is humbly requested to establish how this pension fund debt came about,” Tarusenga added. – (The Independent)

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