MASERU – Members of the Public Officers Defined Contribution Pension Fund, including the Coalition of Lesotho Employees (COLEPE), are worried that the Pension Fund Board of Trustees is failing to address its members’ concerns. This is as COLEPE had requested an Annual General Meeting (AGM) from the Board of Trustees and allege that, instead of the AGM being called, they were told about the Annual Member Engagement Forum (AMEF).
COLEPE comprises the Lesotho Public Service Staff Association (LEPSSA), the Lesotho Principals Association (LESPA), the Lesotho Nurses Association (LNA), the Qiloane Nursing Assistant Association (QINUASA), the Lesotho Police Staff Association (LEPOSA), the Lesotho Teachers Trade Union (LTTU), and the Lesotho Association of Teachers (LAT).
Lesotho Police Staff Association (LEPOSA) Secretary General ’Makatleho Mphetho told Public Eye in an interview this week that COLEPE wrote to the principal officer of the trustee, Mamotlohi Mochebelele, on April 17 requesting an AGM, but the request was declined.
Instead, their letter was replied to on May 8 wherein they were informed that there are changes which means that instead of the AGM, there will now be an Annual Member Engagement Forum. According to Mphetho, the Annual Member Engagement Forum is insufficient because it only holds discussions instead of reporting on the funds and discussing plans as was done in the AGM.
COLEPE reacted by writing a letter to the Principal Officer dated October 18, where they mentioned that, in anticipation of the engagement forum, “we would appreciate the conversation to be extended to the following matters, which we opine would contribute to the discussions that have already been tabled on the agenda, including the programme entailing issues on the representation of sectors on the board of trustees.
“Public Officers Contribution Pension Fund law review, expiration of contract of the fund administrator accompanying appointment of an administrator, and what has informed the continued presence of administrator despite the expiry of the contract, determination of investments as well as benefits of members accruing from investments and assets.”
During the AMEF on Friday last week, Ministry of Finance Principal Secretary (PS) and Chairperson Board of Trustees Nthoateng Lebona said the purpose of the AMEF was to account to all public officers, stakeholders, and sponsors, as well as the government, what they have been doing and showcase the status of the fund.
She said there is also a new strategic plan with which they intend to take their fund to greater heights, ensuring a timely disbursement of funds. In the performance review of the fund, she said, they intend to have a commitment to engage membership in what else needs to be included in the policy for a better function of the trustee, to engage better and communicate better with the membership, and for the trustee to work in-depth so that authorities understand its concept. She also said the AMEF mandate was to find a way forward to resolve the engagement with members.
For his part, the Minister of Public Service, Labour, and Employment, Richard Ramoeletsi, said that while the fund was established in 2008, the government passed certain amendments to the fund for the wellness of its members. As a result of the amendments, Ramoeletsi says members can now commute up to 50 percent of their fund credit.
He added that there are challenges that the fund is facing, which include payment of funds and outstanding government debts, to mention a few. He noted that to tackle the issue, there needs to be efficiency on membership funds, which is a priority, ongoing training for human resource officers, a principal secretaries task team yet to be constituted (PSs), and six months of terminal benefits prior to the members’ last day.
“Nothing beats accountability when you manage someone’s purse. It is the government’s job and those responsible to see to it that the fund receives steadfast policy support for the betterment of public officers,” he mentioned. The Minister of Finance, Retšelisitsoe Matlanyane, said in 2008, the world faced a financial crisis affecting the economy in various countries. She said in the pension fund, those who have retired live off their contributions and those of others adding that the trustees are the backbone of the country and contribute to the pension fund.
She added that the pension fund has 15 years of service in the country and 36 000 members, including Pioneer and Maseru Mall. She said that M10 billion in assets is under the management of the pension fund, which means that the fund is still healthy. She also said that the significance of the fund is that it is the bedrock upon which financial futures are built, not merely financial instruments but a lifeline towards a better living, a bridge to a dignified retirement, as well as ensuring that the dignity of civil servants is not just a question of moral support but that they should live in dignity.
“The significance of the fund resonates well with the essence of the government’s strategies; enhancing conversation through transparency and accountability. It is in this manner that the government will support the fund to make it more stable than it already is. There is also a need for the civil service data base to be refined with the pension fund working closely with the Ministry of Public Service,” she added. The government of Lesotho has remitted a total of M200 billion to the Defined Contribution Pension Fund, which is not a once-off initiative but will go a long way.