AG’s statement on Pacific Beat that asking the President of Fiji to appoint a Commission of Inquiry is ‘laughable’ since he does not have that power’:

Grey Power Response:

The rights of the elderly of Fiji were protected by the 1997 Constitution. If there is presidential power to abrogate the Constitution, then surely there must be a presidential power to establish a Commission of Inquiry in the national interest, since appointing a Commission of Inquiry is a ‘prerogative’ power used for the public good.

Fiji AG says Aust-NZ travel bans affect pension fund

Fiji’s interim Attorney-General, Aiyaz Sayed-Kaiyum, says travel bans by Australia and New Zealand on members of Fiji’s post-coup regime are hampering efforts to bring more expertise onto the Board of Fiji’s troubled pension fund.

Fiji’s National Provident Fund – the only pension fund in the country – is pushing ahead with reforms that will see pensions cut by up to 64 per cent.

Pensioners are calling on the Fiji government to establish an independent Commission of Inquiry into mismanagement of the fund and have brought court action to force the government to act.

The Attorney General says an inquiry is not necessary.

Presenter: Jemima Garrett, Pacific Economic and Business reporter
Speaker: Aiyaz Sayed-Kaiyum, Fiji’s interim Attorney-General

GARRETT: Questions have been hanging over the Fiji National Provident Fund since the late 1980’s but the situation got much worse in the last few years when bad investments forced asset write-downs of 327 million Fiji dollars – equivalent to around 160 million Australian dollars.

Fiji’s Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Kaiyum says the interim government is acting to protect the retirement savings of Fiji’s citizens.

SAYED-KAIYUM: The Bainimarama government is supporting the reforms because we are concerned about the long-term sustainability of the FNPF (Fiji National Provident Fund). That really needs to be understood. we are not going to play politics with it as previous governments have.

GARRETT: So just how unsustainable are the current pension payments?

SAYED-KAIYUM: Well, essentially you have the bulk of the members subsidising a handful of members. The manner in which we are conducting our business at the moment the funds will all dry up by 2050, which is not very far away.

GARRETT: The Provident Fund’s investments in tourism ventures at Natadola and Momi Bay that lead to the asset write-downs were made under the previous Qarase government.

The Attorney-General says that while those decisions were bad the overall mismanagement and poor governance of the Fund is more of a problem.

One that he says the government is determined to arrest.

SAYED-KAIYUM: We must put in place a transparent system of running FNPF. The governance issues are very important. We are reforming our companies Act. that will have an impact on the trustees and their responsibilities, directors etc. They need to be held a lot more accountable. Previously, they weren’t accountable at all.

GARRETT: Indeed, critics of the current reforms say a full Inquiry, a full independent inquiry, is needed before the pension cuts go ahead. What is your reaction to that?

SAYED-KAIYUM: It is always nice to say let’s have an independent inquiry – what are you going inquire? The reports date back to late eighties and nineties. Why weren’t these people wanting an inquiry then? And, I think it is unfortunate that a lot of these people who are coming out as critics, in fact have a political angle to this.

GARRETT: Political or not. there are many employers, pensioners and current workers who are concerned and they are not convinced the interim government has their best interests at heart.

They have called on President, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, to intervene.

The Attorney-General says the idea that the President might set up a Commission of Inquiry is laughable as he does not have that power.

Mr Sayed-Kaiyum says he is trying to bring better ethics and expertise to the Provident Fund Board.

SAYED-KAIYUM: What the Bainimarama government has also been doing in the past few years is to try and approach people who bring those particular skill sets but unfortunately there are some good people who are quite willing to serve on these boards but, because of the travel bans imposed by Australia and New Zealand, they won’t sit on these Boards.

GARRETT: Despite those difficulties, Mr Sayed-Kaiyum is convinced the process of developing the pension reforms is sound.

He says the Provident Fund has had expert advice from actuaries and pension fund experts from Singapore and Australia.

The Provident Fund has set September the first as the deadline for implementation but Mr Sayed-Kaiyum says there is still work to be done on the final shape of the reform package.

SAYED-KAIYUM: They will put together a package for consideration by the members, eventually by cabinet should there be any need to carry out legal amendments to the existing Act, and those amendments will be carried out.

GARRETT: So how firm is that September 1 deadline for bringing in the reforms?

SAYED-KAIYUM: Frankly, I can’t really tell you! A lot of it depends on the work that will be done by the consultants and feeding through the submissions that have been received and see what it takes. Who knows, it could take later, it could be done sooner.