Report commissioned by David Fowler Burness v Fiji National Provident Fund and Republic of Fiji and the Attorney General of Fiji Civil Action: HBC No 183 of 2011
Professor Wadan Narsey
School of Economics
Faculty of Business and Economics
The University of the South Pacific
1. I, WADAN LAL NARSEY of 27 Gardiner Road, Nasese, Suva state as follows:
I have been requested by David Fowler Burness to provide an economic analysis in relation to the proposal of the Fiji National Provident Fund „Board‟ to reduce the pensions of FNPF beneficiaries, including David Fowler Burness, the Applicant in the action for human rights redress pursuant to section 38 (5) of the Human Rights Decree.
I am qualified to make this report, having a number of relevant university degrees (a Bachelors Degree in Mathematics and Science from the University of Otago, a Masters Degree in Economics from the University of West Indies (Jamaica) and a DPhil from the University of Sussex in UK) and having analysed and written on the problems associated with the FNPF for many years.
In addition, I have the following work experience (with the details provided in my CV):
1.0 Employment and significant publications:
1972: Fiji Islands Bureau of Statistics;
1973: the University of the South Pacific ( lecturer in Mathematics and, later, Economics).
I have been employed at USP since then, including three years as USP‟s Director of Development and Planning (1993 – 1996)
1996: Elected unopposed into Parliament until 1999 when I returned to USP.
From 2004- 2007 semi-retired independent consultant.
From 2007 to current- USP‟s Professor in Economics.
Over the past 38 years I have conducted numerous consultancies for regional governments, donors, regional and international organizations. In the last ten years, my consultancy and research work has focused on Fiji and Pacific development problems and applied policy. 2
Recent books published:
(i) Just Wages in Fiji (for ECREA)
(ii) Poverty in Fiji ( for Fiji Islands Bureau of Statistics)
(iii) Gender issues in Employment and Unemployment in Fiji (for AusAID and FIBoS).
(iv) Numerous other publications in eminent journals and books too many to mention but can be supplied upon request.
I have extensive workshop and training experience in Fiji and the Pacific on the subjects of poverty alleviation, social justice and civic responsibility, employment and unemployment, gender, regional trade, and development issues in general.
I have written more than a hundred articles for the Fiji media, on economic, political and social issues, including many on the problems of the FNPF (see the attached CV).
2.0 Professional Credentials and Appointment to Government Boards (1999-2005)
In 1999, I was appointed by the Fiji Government (led by the Fiji Labour Party then) on the
Fiji National Provident Fund Investment Committee, on which I served for three years.
I was also appointed by the same government on the Asset Management Bank Board (tasked with recovering the “bad debts” resulting from the National Bank of Fiji disaster) on which I also served for the full three years.
In 2004 I was appointed by the SDL Government on the Board of FIRCA (Fiji Islands Revenue and Customs authority) from which I resigned on issues of principle.
I have also made presentations to numerous Fiji Government Cabinets in respect of major development projects for the SDL/FLP Multi-party Cabinet, as well as on poverty and poverty alleviation issues in Fiji (the latter with a team from the Fiji Islands Bureau of Statistics).
Three years ago I was also invited by Commodore Bainimarama to chair the FNPF Board, which offer I declined on principle, as I informed him that I was personally opposed to military coups removing elected governments, since my personal economic analyses of previous coups had led me to the conclusion that they did great economic, political and social harm to our country.
I have disclosed to Mr Burness the fact that I am the recipient of an FNPF pension (ie a beneficiary) but have also disclosed that I have written as an economist, on issues pertaining to FNPF since 2002, that is, prior to my receiving the pension, while contributing on the 1998 FNPF Amendment Act in Parliament. 3
3.0 Questions asked by Mr Burness
I have been asked to address a series of specific questions, as follows:
Question 1 (a) Can FNPF pensions be legally reduced?
Answer: No they cannot be, pursuant to the FNPF Act.
Question 1(b) Can FNPF vary the pension rates differentially for high/low income pensioners?
Answer: The FNPF Act states they cannot.
Question 1(c) Does FNPF have the financial capacity to pay existing pensions at their current rates?
Answer: The provisions of the FNPF Act and the existence of the Buffer Fund, which has wrongly been denied interest payments from 1975 to the present, suggest without any doubt that they do have capacity to pay, for another 18 years or more.
Should there be an official inquiry into the Fiji National Provident Fund in relation to investments, related issues with respect to the Burness legal action, and the planned implementation of the review by the FNPF and on what economic basis?
In my report below, I outline the many reasons (including possible actuarial errors by the ILO and Mercer studies) why an Expert Commission of Inquiry is necessary to make certain recommendations which may then be considered by an elected Government.
4.0 FNPF issues prior to 2006 – economic analyses
FNPF has been larger, in total, than all the other private financial institutions put together. FNPF, is the biggest lender to the Fiji Government, as well as the largest player in the financial market. By purchasing majority shares in ATH, FNPF also became the biggest stakeholder in the telecommunications market, with its numerous monopolies, which have constrained the Fiji economy for decades, particularly in the last twelve years under FNPF influence.
I have published a number of articles, on how FNPF has over the decades come to its current crisis. These can be supplied upon request, as follows: 4
In “The ATHL monopoly: between the devil and the deep blue sea”, The Fiji Times, 6 March 2002, I wrote:
How FNPF’s purchase, at an extremely inflated price, of majority shares in the ATH
super monopoly condemned to a quandary where to protect its investment, it would
have to squeeze maximum dividends out of its ATH shares, and hence the maximum
from Vodaphone, Telecom Fiji and FINTEL (over which it only obtained “management rights”, not actual ownership of shares. The PS Finance then (Narube)
was also then the Chairman of the FNPF Board.
In the “The Reserve Bank and the FNPF: funny business for the guv”. The Fiji Times, 12 March 2002 I pointed out:
The massive conflicts interest for the Governor of the Reserve Bank who
was also appointed as Chairman of FNPF and he also accepted Chairmanship of
FINTEL: with the RBF forcing FNPF to bring back its investments (thereby losing
revenue and risk minimisation for FNPF), RBF’s role as regulator of Fiji’s financial
system while FNPF was a huge player in the financial market, etc. A similar conflict of
interest was also always there with the Permanent Scretary of Finance, or other
Permanent Secrataries being appointed as Chairman of the FNPF Board.
In “Communications Monopoly monsters at work” The Fiji Times, 21 May 2004, I wrote:
How the communications monopolies were doing huge damage to Fiji economically
and socially, and FNPF, to gain short-term dividends, was harming itself in the long
run by supporting monopolistic practices which squeezed the economy, reduced
economic growth and job creation and thereby squeezed its own long-term growth in
contributions from existing and new members.
In “Auditors between the devil and the deep blue sea”. The Sunday Times, 14 August 2005, I wrote:
that the implications of the Professor Michael White’s analysis of FNPF
accounts by auditors on how FNPF would appear to be far worse if proper
accounting procedures were to be followed in respect of the massive premium paid by
FNPF for ATH shares, and the likely loss of value once competition was brought into
the telecommunications industry. This was a very prophetic article, as well the
analysis by Professor White.
In “Stock markets, sharks, suckers and victims”. Islands Business, May 2006 I wrote:
While stakeholders in the Fiji Stock Exchange had been attempting to encourage the
public to convert their savings into shares in the stock market, it points to
the dangers lurking in the future, especially if governments, under pressure from
WTO or just a good change in policy, try to reduce monopolies, such as cement
producing companies, or ATH. There would be inevitable losses in share value, 5
which stock market stakeholders were not pointing out. FNPF had even been
encouraging, in my view wrongly, its members to use their FNPF money to buy
shares in ATH, the monopoly.
5.0 Post 2006
Since the events of 2006, there have been massively increased government borrowings from the FNPF, and massive losses in some large investments.
I have written the following articles, which have had direct or indirect bearing on the FNPF:
“Coup wolves circling FNPF” Fiji Sun, 14 March 2009 and The Fiji Times 13 March 2009.
Early warning: Fijian Holdings Limited, a company controlled by the Military
Government, tried to borrow more than a hundred millions from FNPF, when private
banks had refused. Thankfully, FNPF refused. More ominously, the Military
Government wants to borrow hundreds of millions, basically to sustain their increased
recurrent expenditure and military over-spending. The private banks, local or overseas,
will not oblige. Should FNPF oblige? Will FNPF oblige? If FNPF continuously gives in
to such lending pressures from Government, without economic growth, it will only
encourage inflation to rise in the long term, thereby slashing the real value of everyone’s
savings and pensions. And if ever pensioners totally lose confidence in FNPF, it may
become insolvent, with future pension rates slashed, and even existing pensions reduced
in dollar terms. The key issue is that the FNPF Board is now controlled by an unelected
Military Government’s appointees and we the FNPF contributors who own the savings do not have a single direct representative on the FNPF Board who can be accountable to us.
In “Saving FNPF and Fiji” 12 May 2010 (Pacific Scoop- online media), I wrote:
Worrying news about Fiji National Provident Fund (FNPF) and the Reserve Bank of Fiji
(RBF). FNPF announced a $327 million “write down” in its investment value (with
some $300 million of that due to the Natadola loan). But FNPF also has some other large
exposures which are not looking good: Momi, FSC and other private sector borrowers.
And very strange that RBF has lent $22 million to the Fiji Sugar Corporation (FSC).
These are all extremely worrying developments for FNPF, RBF and for Fiji. Urgent need
for Public Inquiry. How did these massive losses take place? Who should be held
responsible? Might it get worse for FNPF? And how should FNPF management be
strengthened to prevent further unwise decisions?
In “Helping FNPF, despite media censorship”. Pacific Scoop. 18 January 2011, I wrote:
With a stagnating economy FNPF revenues have been severely constrained. Few new
jobs have been created and existing incomes have not grown; many loans are nonperforming; returns on FNPF investments have been declining; and large amounts of
capital values have been written off because of mismanagement. But collectively, FNPF 6
contributors and pensioners remain the largest group of spenders in the Fiji economy.
This article constructively suggested how FNPF contributors and pensioners could direct
their consumption expenditure towards FNPF investments (such as Holiday Inn,the
Intercontinental, and Tappoo City), and change FNPF policies for the better. How FNPF
management could encourage this by providing financial incentives and changing their
management structure. Called on FNPF stakeholders (FNPF itself, unions, pensioners,
civil servants etc) to conduct marketing campaigns in the aid of FNPF assets and loans
In “Your money is not fully yours”. The Fiji Times 7 May 2011, I wrote:
..while Fiji citizens technically own their personal monetary holdings, they and their
institutions (like FNPF) are not free to invest it where they wish to- they must obtain RBF
permission to invest abroad. FNPF, which used to keep moderate amounts of their funds
abroad in order to diversify their investments, have also been forced to bring them back,
wherever there have been foreign exchange reserves crises, and suffered losses as a
consequence. Whatever the FNPF loses in income, is gained by the RBF, which passes it
on to the Government of the day, to spend and enjoy. Fiji citizens, who were forced to
keep their investments in Fiji, have paid a heavy price, periodically.
In “FNPF sinks lower” Pacific Scoop. 26 May 2011, I wrote:
That the FNPF symposium being organized by the FNPF and the Miliary Regime was a
farce. The FNPF management and Board, under orders from the Bainimarama Regime,
will continue to hide all the reports that would reveal that the Bainimarama Regime is
itself directly and indirectly responsible for a large part of the mess that the FNPF is
currently in and the urgency of needed reforms; The Bainimarama Regime will continue
to milk the FNPF cow, which, with increased contributions and reduced payouts, will
give them even more of our savings to use ad misuse, however they wish. The
contributors to FNPF and the pensioners of FNPF, will have no choice in the matter.
With media censorship, they cannot even publicly and freely discuss these massive
changes to your pension fund.
Called on the contributors and pensioners of FNPF to demand the public release of all the reports by IMF, WB, ILO and recent independent consultants; demand the release of all the reports on the investigation into the investments at Natadola, Momi; demand that the majority of the FNPF Board Members must be democratically elected by the current
FNPF contributors and with pensioners having separate elected representation; demand
that the Chairman of the Board must be from these elected Members and definitely not
some foreigner as currently; demand that any decision on changes to the FNPF must be
made by the elected Board and not the current Board and Management; demand that
FNPF must be allowed to invest as much of its funds abroad as is prudently advisable and that RBF must recompense FNPF for all the lost earnings because of foreign investments brought back; demand that the FNPF management swear oaths of allegiance to the real owners of the Fund- the contributors and the pensioners, and not to an illegal Military Government. 7
In “Consultants helping the Fiji military milk the FNPF cow”.Pacific Scoop. 2 June 2011 I wrote:
While consultants were recommending significant reductions to the annuity rates for
future pensioners, serious questions may be asked, for example, whether the Mercer
calculations are correct, especially their assumption of Fiji’s future mortality patterns
following Australian patterns. While these consultants and FNPF management talked
about accountability and transparency, and the need to protect “whistleblowers”- they do not apply these same principles to themselves with their data and analysis. The
Promontory recommendations on the “Restructured Board” are a total sell-out of sound
principles of accountability of the FNPF management and Board, to the real owners of
the FNPF. These consultants’ direct involvement in the politically inspired symposium
sadly shows how supposed independent experts will compromise their professionalism
into illegal processes being stage-managed by this illegal Military Regime. These
consultants’ recommendations also make sure that they will continue to earn further
consultancies well into the future.
In “End FNPF subsidy to Fiji Governments- linking the many battles” Pacific Scoop. 20 July 2011 I wrote:
The FNPF Board and Management conveniently ignore that FNPF has been giving large
subsidies (amounting to hundreds of millions over the last forty years) to successive Fiji
governments through easily available loans, at interest rates much lower than that
charged by commercial banks. The legal battle by current pensioners against FNPF and
the Military Regime, should point to these massive FNPF subsidies to Fiji governments
as a moral justification for Fiji Government to finance any future shortfalls in the
liabilities to existing pensioners. To help FNPF’s revenues and current contributors and
pensioners, these interest rate subsidies to Government should also be ended. For that to
occur, both pensioners and contributors need to fight Battle 3, which is to have an FNPF
Board completely accountable to its members. Continue reading