LAST month, Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Minister Professor Paul Mavima appointed a new National Social Security Authority (NSSA) board which is chaired by economist Dr Percy Toriro.NSSA had been without a substantive board for nine months prior to the new appointments. The Sunday Mail’s senior reporter LEROY DZENGA spoke to Dr Toriro on their plans for the key institution.
Q: Congratulations on your appointment. I understand you have been undergoing induction and familiarisation processes, what was your initial assessment of the organisation?
A: This is a huge responsibility and I will need all the goodwill.
Yes, we had an induction workshop and I am beginning to settle in the organisation, but there is still a lot to learn.
My initial assessment is that there are many stakeholders in NSSA and navigating it will require working to achieve a shared vision with those different stakeholders.
Q: What brief did you receive from your appointing authority?
A: The appointing authority wants us to prudently manage the fund, clean up sticking issues and grow the workers’ pension to reach a decent pay-out benchmarked with International Labour Organisation (ILO) standards.
Q: What are your board’s short-term, medium-term and long-term goals?
A: I will seek the consensus of the board on these, but considering the state of NSSA today, we will in the short term join management’s ongoing stakeholders’ engagement programme because it helps restore confidence.
In the medium term, we want to address the issue of poor investments and non-performing assets.
As we address those two, we will consider the long term. As a board, we want to tread carefully informed by facts.
Q: There have been calls for enhanced transparency at NSSA. What can we expect from the new leadership with regards to improving efficiencies and appropriate resource allocation?
A: NSSA is a huge organisation handling huge public resources.
Where big resources and assets are concerned, an organisation must maintain robust checks and balances to protect the resources.
We have been advised that the organisation is already working on that, and the new board will build on those efforts.
We understand the different needs and expectations of different interest groups and we will be working to address these.
I do not have specific proposals, but soon we will look into the different target groups.
Q: A forensic audit undertaken by BDO Chartered Accountants on NSSA came up with recommendations, some of which have not been implemented. Will the new board implement these recommendations?
A: Resources have been used to undertake the forensic audit.
Any audit helps reveal the goings-on in an organisation. The board will go through the findings and consider relevant actions working with management and other stakeholders.
Q: The Government announced recently that pensioners will soon begin accessing loans from two local financial institutions under a new NSSA-led scheme. Can you outline the thinking and mechanics behind the scheme?
A: As I indicated, we are still familiarising ourselves with some of these developments and I will be happy to authoritatively comment soon.
Q: Pensioners are among the hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic and now we appear to be heading back towards the introduction of more restrictions. What has NSSA done to ensure that they are cushioned from hardships occasioned by the pandemic?
A: The pandemic has affected everyone and of course pensioners more.
NSSA has been sensitive to that by making additional payments, including some non-monetary benefits.
There are also upward reviews of pay-outs that have already been considered, which should be implemented soon.
This pandemic has not been easy on NSSA because it has also affected members’ capacity to pay, but we will remain sensitive to pensioners’ plight.
Q: Observers say NSSA’s monthly pay-outs to pensioners are not commensurate with contributions that would have been made by members during their working days, what will your board do to ensure that the pay-outs are reflective of one’s contribution?
A: The relationship between contributions and pay-outs is a complex relationship that is determined by actuaries. Admittedly, the pay-outs are on the low side and may not meaningfully sustain pensioners.
There is an intention to progressively increase this to a level that matches ILO standards by year-end.
The minister has already made an announcement in that regard and the team at NSSA will work to meet that expectation.
Q: Questions have also been raised about some of the investment decisions made by previous NSSA management. What will your board do to ensure that NSSA only invests in viable projects?
A: The honourable minister has directed the board to look at some of such investments.
We will be bold enough to correct mistakes made.
Moving forward, we will be guided by investment logic, national and worker interests and not any other consideration.
The fund can only be grown if sound investments that perform well are made.
Q: We understand that NSSA plans to introduce a National Unemployment Benefit Scheme under which unemployed people will be able to draw benefits from the Authority. Can you outline the thinking behind this scheme?
A: This is one of the projects that we are not yet fully briefed on.
Again, I will be willing to come back with responses once I am fully briefed.
Q: We understand that NSSA intends to roll out a Voluntary Informal Sector Scheme, which is envisaged to provide universal social security coverage for people working in the informal sector. What will this scheme entail and when will it rolled out?
A: The informal sector has grown significantly, and it is the Government’s responsibility to ensure that the sector is not left behind in social protection schemes.
This scheme aims to address that.
It will be rolled out soon, but details will be revealed at the right time when everything is in place.