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Justice for BP pensioners at last

BY NATION REPORTER

After a 19-year-long court battle,  in which110  pensioners have died, the surviving 126 BP Zambia Pensioners stand a chance of receiving their correct benefits following the appointment of an Actuary to compute their claim in accordance with the rules that applied to each one of them at the time of departure from the company.

The BP Zambia PLC pension problems started when the company moved the management of the staff pension scheme from the Zambia State Insurance Corporation to Saturnia Regna Pension Trust Fund in January 1995.

The Lusaka High Court yesterday appointed Independent Actuarial Consultants of South Africa to compute the benefits of the 236 former BP Zambia employees who sued their former employer in July 2002.

When a large batch of employees were retrenched in 1999, they were forced to withdraw their contributions from the scheme and Saturnia promised in July 1999 that the affected employees would be paid the employer’s contribution at age 55 or earlier  but a month later in August 1999, the same Saturnia wrote another letter informing the retrenched workers that they had no further claim left in the scheme.

The retrenched employees challenged the company’s and Saturnia’s decisions and several judgments have been passed in their favour but the defendants tenaciously refused to pay the correct benefits in accordance with the scheme rules and the Pension Scheme Regulation Act of 1996.

In a case which sets a precedence in Zambian pension claims litigation, Registrar Arida M Chulu has now invoked Order 23 of the High Court Rules to appoint the actuaries to superintend over the computations as directed by the Supreme Court of Zambia sitting in Ndola on 10 December 2018.

Registrar Chulu stated in her ruling that the matter was before her court for the purpose of Assessment of pension benefits of the Plaintiffs pursuant to the Judgment in their favour and that due to the complexity of the computations required to be done, the Supreme Court of Zambia directed that the said computations be done by a qualified Actuary.

She said that both the Plaintiff and the Defendant had availed the Court with copies of the Actuaries’ profiles and that all the profiles revealed that all the Actuaries possessed extensive experience in different types of investment products.

Registrar Chulu further stated that whereas the Actuary proposed by the Plaintiffs had indicated an estimate of the total cost and the timeline in which the work would be completed, that component was missing from the Defendant’s proposed Actuary.

“It is on this basis that I invoke Order 23 of the High Court Rules and appoint IAC to superintend over the computations as directed by the Supreme Court of Zambia. For avoidance of doubt, I have appointed the Plaintiff’s proposed Actuary to carry out the works,” Registrar Chulu said.

The case commenced in the Lusaka High Court in July 2002 and judgment was passed in favour of the Plaintiffs in October 2010. The high Court found that the transfer of the BP Zambia Staff Pension Scheme from Zambia State Insurance Corporation to Saturnia Regna Pension Trust Fund was not done transparently.

It therefore ordered that all the Plaintiffs should be paid the correct pension benefits in accordance with the rules that applied to each one of them at the time of their departure from the company and that in addition to the interest found in the pension scheme, a penal interest be added on the sum found in each case.

The company appealed against the judgment and the Supreme Court of Zambia upheld the judgment in a ruling delivered in February 2014 save for penal interest which was replaced by 40 per cent from date of departure to date of writ and 25 per cent from date of judgment to final payment.

The matter then went for assessment in 2015 during which hearing the managers of the Saturnia Regna Pension Trust Fund, Benefits Consulting Services Limited testified that the 236 Plaintiffs were only entitled to K1.26 million rebased on the ground that they owed the scheme for fictitious loans.

However, the Assessment Court ruled that the Plaintiffs were entitled to K26.3 million. The company appealed against the Assessment judgment back to the Supreme Court of Zambia while the Plaintiffs also cross appealed and requested the court to appoint an Actuary as referee to re-compute the benefits in accordance with the Pension Scheme Regulation Act of 1996.

In December 2018, the Supreme Court ordered that the Registrar of the High Court should invoke Order 23 of the High Court of Zambia to appoint an  Actuary to compute the benefits.

The Plaintiffs initially recommended two Actuaries in August 2019 while the Defendants counter proposed their preferred Actuaries in December 2020.

Out of the initial number of 236 Plaintiffs, 110 have died. The latest victim is Mr Derrick Nsaka who passed on over the weekend and will be put to rest on Thursday. Mr Nsaka contributed immensely to BP Zambia’s profits in his capacity as transport manager at the distribution terminal at Bwana Mkubwa in Ndola.

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