Concord Times (Freetown)

16 January 2014

Sierra Leone: Accountant-General Reveals Flaws in Payment of NASSIT Retirement Benefits

The Auditor-General of Audit Service Sierra Leone (ASSL), Mrs. Lara Taylor-Pearce, has revealed that there were many shortcomings and flaws in the payment of retirement benefits to pensioners of the National Social Security and Insurance Trust (NASSIT).

Mrs. Taylor-Pearce's comments are contained in the 2012 Auditor-General's report which was tabled in Parliament last December, and which highlights fundamental problems in processing and paying retirement benefits by NASSIT staff.

She revealed that during the period 2008 to 2012, it took NASSIT an average of 58 days to process and deliver payments to retirees, while the objective to expedite the process and payment of old age benefits within NASSIT's target of 15 days was not met in 2012.

She said that would-be retirees were not notified by NASSIT of their retirement, and that there were long queues at provincial offices, especially in the north and south, spanning on average an additional 13 days delay in the preparation of retirement payments. She said private sector pensioners with contribution gaps had an average waiting time of 85 days, adding that members of the public were not well sensitized on how to apply for their benefits before retirement and that most retirees could not present the complete set of documents at their first application or to promptly collect their cheques when available.

Mrs. Taylor-Pearce noted that NASSIT only validated 13,638 out of 59,442 eligible employees of the Government of Sierra Leone, spanning since 2011, plus the Trust does not have a file tracking and retrieving system at the records section, while files are not properly being stored.

She commended progress made in the area of Information Communication and Technology, with the upgrade of the NASSIT Area Pension operating system, but noted that much work was still needed to improve the overall operating efficiency as some 32% of the Trust's funds, valued at cost, are tied up in investments and loans to subsidiaries and associated companies, which are largely commercial in nature, some of these appear to have lost value significantly.

She said the many lapses and failure to address the fundamental weakness in its investment decisions, contribution, collection and the payments of benefits invariably means that the Board of Trustees is failing in its responsibility to provide control and supervision as required by section 8(1) of the NASSIT Act, 2001.

She urged the Board of Trustees to consider the safety and yield of the investment, liquidity of the investment, the need to maintain the real value and spread of the investment, the maintenance of the fund and diversification of the portfolio of the investment and that of the harmony of the investment with the public interest.

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