Tussle over M7b pension fund intensifies


  • Workers unions throw weight behind pensioners’ demand for forensic audit
  • Implore finance minister’s intervention to ensure accountability and transparency


MASERU – Workers unions this week endorsed protracted calls by the Public Officers Defined Contributions Pensions Association (PODCPA) that a forensic audit of the Public Officers Defined Contribution Pension Fund (PODCPF) be performed and for the suspension of activities of the current administrator NBC Lesotho Insurance Company.The pensioners have demanded that the PODCPF board seek a new administrator until the results of the envisaged audit vindicates NBC Lesotho. PODCPA has been fighting the re-appointment of NBC Lesotho as PODCPF administrator for ages, arguing that the company’s continued endorsement as administrator goes against a litany of concerns they have raised over time in relation to NBC’s conduct and handling of their fund.

A joint statement by the PODCPF, Lesotho Police Staff Association (LEPOSA) and the Lesotho Public Staff Association (LePSA) on the release of the forensic audit of the fund has once again thrown the administration of the pensioners’ fund into public discourse – and puts under the spotlight incumbent finance minister, Dr Retšelisitsoe Matlanyane, and her chief accounting officer Nthoateng Lebona who chairs the PODCPF board. The unions say this joint appeal and act of solidarity towards common interests lays bare their plight on the disregard of their right as workers to be served in a transparent and accountable manner at all times in the conduct of their affairs, while also displaying the “sheer arrogance that can be characterised as nothing less than insolence that has so far been displayed in the handling of our affairs.” They content that this attitude towards national affairs is likely to affect the country’s economy negatively, and request an explanation on the reasons why efforts to seek intervention from the authorities have to date failed.

“In particular, we demand an explanation from the Minister of Finance and Development Planning why she has never bothered to respond to even a single communication from the pensioners,” reads the unions statement.The unions further take Lebona to task, as PODCPF board chairperson, for not honouring her promise to release the report by the end of November 2022, asking why she has also “decided to board a bandwagon of ignoring the pensioners in subsequent communications.” They go on to accuse PODCPF Principal Officer, Thakane Mochebelele, the board – together with its subcommittees – of apparent efforts to frustrate the release of the forensic audit report. They further suggest that the continued refusal to launch the forensic audit by those in authority is not only counter-productive but sends serious undertones on what it is likely to release to the nation that some of the authorities in the fund’s administration seem to be so vehemently protecting. It is the conviction of the allied associations that the release of the report is long overdue – hence the demand for its immediate release. PODCPA spokesperson, Ithabeleng Phamotse, told this paper yesterday that the PODCPF has failed its members dismally – failing to even engage with them over the call for a forensic audit of the fund administrator. “We are seeking intervention from all sectors of the Basotho nation to shine the spotlight on this ill-administration, we have given these people ample time to consider our request.

“We have been fighting hard for the audit to be conducted, but till today there has not been anything. We even approached the Principal Secretary as PODCPF board chair, to assist us but she was very rude.  What we want is accountability. “We have been to court but to date our case has not been heard. PODCPF management has since gone as far as suggesting that we should withdraw the case to give them time to proceed with the audit, but we know that once we do so, there will drop the exercise. They had promised to conduct the report by end of November 2022. “The Minister of Finance is also ignoring our call for intervention, she is not even promising to get back to us. We have even sought an intervention of Prime Minister Matekane,” she said. “What is their interest in not proceeding with the forensic audit? The current administrator’s contract is coming to an end soon and we wrote a letter requesting examples of things done to announce the imminent vacancy but the Principal Officer has ignored our letter. There is a situation in hand and these people are hiding a lot from us,” she noted. On the other hand, LEPOSA Secretary General, ’Makatleho Mphetho, said the fate and welfare of the pensioners form part of their responsibilities as an association, therefore “if nothing is done to ensure that their needs are met we are held accountable. The scope of civil pensioners we are responsible for covers the police, teachers and every other person in the country. Therefore, we have to see to it that they as well receive the best services.”

“We are stakeholders as well, and if the Pension Fund does not issue out the audit then we will go to court again. The money spent on the forensic audit report is more than the money spend on any normal audit report, but we want it to be conducted. They have been promising yet, to date, nothing has been done,” she said. Speaking to Public Eye in an earlier interview on the PODCPA crusade for a forensic audit and dislodging NBC Lesotho from the fund’s administration, Phamotse said the PODCPF board’s unadulterated expression of intent to oppose the association’s application was not only illogical but suicidal because pensioners owned the funds that NBC administered and that they were “within our rights to demand transparency.”

“Board members must always remember that their fiduciary duty is to always safeguard assets of their members. They must always remember that there is always a story behind a story. Members and boards of trustees are well within their rights to demand information from service providers regarding their money, how service providers are performing against their contracts and requesting forensic investigations on their funds,” Phamotse said. According to Phamotse, it was only prudent for the board to acknowledge pensioners’ concerns as that would “prove they have nothing to hide.” “Decent service providers should see this as a positive and cooperate with processes, if they have nothing to hide. At a minimum, an intense due diligence must be performed on service providers every three years,” Phamotse said. “If board members do not act in the best interest of the members and the fund, they can be sued in their individual capacity, during or even years after they served on the boards.” The PODCPF has filed an affidavit opposing the PODCPA ‘s application opposing the continued engagement of NBC Lesotho in the administration of their M7 billion 38 000-member fund.

This paper has learned that apart from the aggrieved civil pensioners, the Lesotho Police Staff Association (LEPOSA) has on several occasions been on the verge of instituting legal proceedings against NBC Lesotho – also over the administration of officers’ defined benefits. A source within the staff association told this paper several letters have been written to the PODCPF board seeking remedy, but that none has come forth. Among the issues of concern, the source said, is the past service liability money that the association says was not forwarded for members’ benefit when NBC took over the administration of pensions from government. NBC Lesotho management has on several occasions speaking to this paper on the pensioners call for NBC disengagement and purported maladministration of members’ funds denied any wrongdoing, with managing director, Godfrey Vatsha, saying the company has neither been appointed as the asset manager of the PODCPF, its investment consultant or as an actuary of the fund. They have also scoffed at the touted NBC Lesotho removal as fund administrator for poor service – inclusive of irregular conduct, malfeasance and loss of credibility.

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