By Catherine Sasman
A group of former employees of the former Tsumeb Corporation Limited Group (TCL) signed a petition to re-open the search for an estimated N$116.9 million in surplus pension money over the weekend.
The former TCL employees said a possible renewed legal case would be re-instated if all else fails, where former trustees in their personal capacities might be held responsible to answer for the ‘missing’ millions.
The TCL and its controlling shareholders, the Gold Fields South Africa (GFSA), do not exist anymore.
Chairperson of the group of concerned workers, Didhard Mparo, told New Era that leadership of the Mine Workers Union of Namibia (MWUN) at that time told workers that their pension fund money had been paid out in 1998, but later said N$2 million had “disappeared”.
“After two weeks the MWUN phoned and said that all the money had disappeared, that the footprints of the money had gone wet,” Mparo said.
In terms of a rule change in an agreement between the TCL management and the MWUN, and approved by the Registrar of the Pensions Fund – a precursor to the Namibian Financial Institution Supervisory Authority (Namfisa) – TCL was granted the power to withdraw ‘surplus’ capital from the TCL Group Pension and Life Assurance Plan, after transfer of current employees (and their capital) to the Gold Fields Namibia Provident Fund.
It is understood that the drawdowns were used to finance operational needs, and at the subsequent closure of the mine in 1998 to pay retrenchment benefits and creditors.
It is further understood that the drawdowns were made within the rule change approved by the registrar.
According to company documents, TCL started to run up losses in the early 1990s, but GFSA was unwilling to assist its subsidiary.
According to the documentation, “desperate measures” were investigated to obtain funds to bail the company out. From July 1, 1992 the company entered upon a pension contribution holiday.
With these measures proving insufficient, the GFSA Personnel Division and Southern Life entered into an agreement in June 1994 to access the ‘actuarial surplus’, which was to be achieved by converting from a Defined Benefit Pension Plan to a Defined Contribution Provident Fund, and thereby realising the actuarial surplus.
Defined contribution plans (DC) currently dominate the retirement savings sector, which means that an individual pension fund holder carries the risk.
According to the agreement reached between the union and staff between March and April 1995, the actuarial valuation of employees were to be transferred to a provident fund – the Gold Fields Namibia Pension Fund – together with a 20 percent share of the surplus.
A further 20 percent of the remaining surplus was to be transferred to the GFNPF General Reserve.
The balance of N$29.4 million was to be accrued to the employer.
By the end of 1995, the conversion to the provident fund was completed, and an application for a rule change that would enable the surplus refund was submitted to the registrar in 1996.
Due to strikes and high capital expenditure during the second half of 1996, TCL’s “need to access the Pension Fund surplus became a matter of survival”, according to the documentation.
The rule change provided for a transfer for N$49 million to TCL in November 1996. The transfers to unions and staff amounted to N$29.4 million.
Further transfers were authorised – entirely from pensioners’ closed fund – amounting to N$35 million in March 1997 and N$32.9 million in March 1998.
By April 1999, TCL was in provisional liquidation; the surplus pension fund millions according to a report was “gone” and “irrecoverable”.
‘Surplus’ pension money, said Eben de Klerk, Pension Fund Manager of Namfisa, is a constant bone of contention.
In South Africa – closely studied by the pension fund sector in Namibia for the quantity of cross border transactions and the current process of a complete overhaul of the Pension Fund Act here – surplus pension amounted to N$88 billion before September 11, 2001.
The subsequent stock market crashes have seen the shrinkage of the pension fund surplus to N$12 billion there.
In the US, the pension funds are under-funded by US$200 billion.
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