Wed, 21 Feb 2018 09:06:35 +0000
By Expendito Chipasha Chipalo
WORLD financial experts and economists state that pensions keep Britons perpetually rich.
The same thing can be said about the whole of Western Europe and the rest of the developed world.
In the case of Britain, I have firsthand knowledge of how pensions maintain the life styles of Britons past their retirement ages. I worked for a British company for twelve years and all the Britons that I worked with are on life pensions and they can afford to fly to any part of the world every year to take their holiday.
I also have firsthand knowledge of the Swiss pension system through a relation who married a Swiss national.
In Switzerland, all nationals whether naturalised through marriage or settlement are entitled to a pension. Even widowers continue receiving their late wives pensions.
This is happening to a Swiss national who married a Zambian closely related to me.
These are are an illustration of the importance that is attached to pension schemes all over the world.
Sometime in the mid-1990s, British companies tried to abandon final salary pension schemes in what was known as the pension miss-selling scam in England. The Controller of British Pension Schemes intervened and proper pensions were reinstated.
Laws in developed countries do not tolerate any impropriety in the management of pension schemes and there have been some notorious scams which have led to imprisonment and even death. Most prominent of these scams are those of Sir Robert Maxwell and Sir Phillip Greed.
Sir Robert Maxwell died in 1991 when he fell off his luxury yacht in the Canary Islands in what was suspected to be a suicide jump following the collapse of his business empire.
Robert Maxwell who was termed a notorious fraud by the media in England owned the Mirror Group Newspapers Plc. His case is the first notorious conflict of interests involving a Pension Fund and a business empire.
Maxwell expanded his media empire too rapidly in an effort to compete with Rupert Murdoch who owns News Corporation. He borrowed $3 billion to buy Macmillan Publishing Group. Some of Maxwell’s acquisitions incurred large losses and Maxwell resorted to raiding the Pension Fund to prop up Maxwell Communication Corporation which was part publicly owned and part privately owned by Maxwell himself.
According to British parliamentarian Frank Field, Sir Robert Maxwell meant to pay the money back.
“He was just going all over the place borrowing money to keep his companies going. When the music stopped he had no money,” Field says.
After his death, it emerged that Maxwell had taken $660 million from the Mirror Group’s pension funds and analysts believe that it was this scam which led to Sir Robert Maxwell’s death in very controversial circumstances.
A British parliamentary inquiry into the Maxwell scandal concluded as follows:
“Maxwell not only had a Conflict of Interest between his private and public interests, the Trustee Company Bishopsgate Investment Management Limited (BIM) Limited was not independent, but was owned by one of Maxwell’s companies.
When Maxwell started to get into financial difficulties he started moving funds from the pension fund into his privately-owned companies. This pattern of plundering the pension fund became common practice. At a meeting with trade unions, Maxwell once referred to “his” fund.
When this was queried by union officials, he turned to his company secretary and demanded who owned the pension trustee company. He was told that it was ultimately held by his private firm Pergamon Press, as parent company of the Mirror Group Newspapers. Maxwell said: “Exactly. So I own the pension scheme.”
When his media empire finally collapsed it was discovered that £450 million ($700m in 1991) had been stolen from the employees’ pension fund.
Britain’s second pension scam is the one involving Sir Phillip Green who owned the defunct British Home Stores (BHS) and the Arcadia fashion empire. He, like Sir Robert Maxwell raided the two companies’ pension funds to maintain his businesses.
Labour MP Frank Field who is also the chairman of the work and pensions select committee said Green’s behaviour was worse than that of Maxwell.
He said Green behaves like Napoleon; had plundered BHS and “must now pay out at least £571m to fund the pensions hole left behind.”
Sir Phillip Green is also reportedly battling to settle a 24 percent increase in the pension deficit at Arcadia according to documents presented to parliament weeks after he had handed over £363m to cover retirement benefits of former workers at the collapsed BHS chain stores.
The Labour MP said the manner of the demise of BHS was the “unacceptable face of capitalism.”
“Sir Philip Green has a huge amount of money – unlike Robert Maxwell – if he wishes now to make good the pension deficit to those 22, 000 pensioners he could do it. He keeps talking about it, but doesn’t do it.
“He just needs to get his cheque book out and start writing a cheque to cover the huge pension deficit. He has wealth beyond the dreams of avarice and should act.”
Other British politicians have called for the prime minister, Theresa May, to take steps to strip Green of his knighthood after the publication of the report. They include Owen Smith, the Labour leadership candidate, Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats, and John Mann, the Labour MP.
Mann said: “A very privileged few benefited from BHS and due to their actions thousands will now be worse off through no fault of their own.
A government spokesperson said: “This case shows why the government is determined to tackle corporate irresponsibility and reform capitalism so it works for everyone – not just the privileged few.
Our country is faced with the unfolding pension scam involving Saturnia Regna Pension Trust Fund which its managers boast of as being the biggest multi-employer pension scheme. There are a lot of similarities between the two British pension scams and our own Saturnia Pension Trust Fund scam.
The fund managers and administrators claim to own the fund but the cardinal issue is that the money they manage and are apparently abusing does not belong to them.
Thousands of workers like in Britain are in danger of suffering through no fault of their own. Some like the former BP Zambia, Zambian Breweries and Anglo American former employees are already suffering. Their benefits have been stolen and they are now fighting long standing court battles to recover what was in the first place investment into their future.
The horrendous difference is the loud silence of the government over the openly criminal manner in which the Saturnia Regna Pension Fund is managed. In Britain, the government is acting to protect the interest of the workers and parliament is closely involved in monitoring the situation. If I may be allowed to ask, where are our MPs? They are supposed to push the government to act swiftly.
All institutions of government; the legislature, the executive and the judiciary must take a keen interest in stemming pension fraud and where it has already taken place in ensuring that the workers’ rights are expeditiously restored.
The Saturnia Regna Pension scam also calls for intelligent decisions from the Trustees. They represent the workers and every step they take must be for the protection of the workers and not the fund managers and administrators. In the current situation, they must take actions to reposes all pension assets at home and abroad and take full control of the affairs of the fund.
The goings on in the management of Saturnia Regna Pension Trust Fund points to massive corruption of all the oversight institutions. Such abuse could not have taken place without compromising the legal controls in government and the private sector. For example, how did the banks externalize $40 million without demanding the requisite authority from the minister? I cannot remit even $500 without producing the requisite documents.
How has the Pension and Insurance Authority allowed the fund managers and administrators to invest pension money into companies where they have personal interest much against the dictates of the Pension and Insurance Authority regulations?
The Trustees must act decisively and take immediate action. It is their money and that of the members they represent. No one, not even the worthless PIA has a right to stop them from securing the money that belongs to them. There may not be another chance. Robert Maxwell and Phillip Green stole pension funds because they were given a free hand to do what they liked without the knowledge of the workers. In this case, the rot has been exposed, there may not be another chance to save the members future benefits.
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