21 August 2014

Zimbabwe: NSSA Decision Right

PLANS by the Ministry of Finance to wrestle control of the compulsory pension scheme, the National Social Security Authority (NSSA), from the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare were long overdue. For a long time, NSSA has been dogged by controversy and has acted as an errant player on the pensions market, insulated from statutes that govern the rest of the country's players on account of its affiliation to government.

While its last board of directors tried to bring a semblance of transparency over the last few years by allowing the publication of NSSA's financial results and holding briefings with journalists, that momentum appears to have been lost. Its operations have directly been under the oversight of the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, whereas other players have been under the supervision of the Insurance and Pensions Commission (IPEC), a body governing the operations of the insurance and pensions industry in Zimbabwe. NSSA, established in terms of the NSSA Act of 1989, is the statutory body tasked by government to provide social security. At the moment, NSSA is administering two schemes: Pension and Other Benefits Scheme, and Accident Prevention and Workers' Compensation Scheme, although, in an endeavour to provide a more comprehensive social security package for the Zimbabwean society, groundwork for the introduction of more schemes, such as health insurance, is underway.

Essentially, NSSA is an insurance and pensions firm and it is right that its operations should be regulated by IPEC. We recognise that the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare has failed to play its oversight role over NSSA due, effectively, to its lack of requisite expertise within its staff to superintend over this behemoth, whose distinction from other players is that it does not require to persuade contributors to join its schemes but benefits from legislation that compels every working Zimbabwean to contribute towards its pension schemes even against their will.

Now, given that fact, the burden for accountability to contributors should be higher than that on other insurance and pension houses, which have to persuade citizens to take up insurance or pension voluntarily. The fact that people are compelled and cannot even withdraw contributions to NSSA even when aggrieved by acts of delinquency calls for greater safeguards against vice and mismanagement, which have been reported by various audits on NSSA although denied by management.

Currently, NSSA is accountable to the Ministry of Public Service, rather than to contributors. That is totally wrong. We hope as government moves to ensure NSSA falls under IPEC, which falls under the Ministry of Finance, changes will also be made to ensure NSSA is accountable to its true stakeholders, the workers, to whom it should rightly be accountable to, even through general meetings.

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