MASERU — Former Members of Parliament (MPs) are up in arms and questioning the credibility and administration of the Public Officers Defined Contribution Pension’s Fund.
The MPs are aggrieved by the manner in which the fund is paying out their pension gratuities and have even sought the assistance of an inflation expert to interpret the explanation given by the fund on the bloated inflation impact on their pensions.
The expert was brought on board by the former MPs who had been complaining for a long time that the fund lacked transparency over gratuity structures of their benefits.
According to one of the MPs, Sello Maphalla, it was difficult for them to grasp how the pensions fund regulates their monies because “the fund does not communicate with us”.
“The fund is a mess because they will just deposit payments into our bank accounts without payment vouchers clearly highlighting how benefits are paid out,” Maphalla said.
Upon leaving parliament, MPs are supposed to be paid 25 percent of their gratuity, normally in installments of 10 percent, another 10 percent and five percent, first.
The balance, 75 percent is supposed to be disbursed on a monthly basis thereafter.
“The fund is messing our accounts and our budget. In October we were paid 10 percent of the gratuity but this was later withdrawn.”
In an apparent show of anxiety, the former MPs also opened a case in the High Court of Lesotho against the pension fund seeking clarity on the body’s gratuity structures.
According to the former legislators, the fund has not given them any policy documents outlining monies payable to them for purposes of credibility and transparency.
Some of the aggrieved MPs told the Sunday Express on Friday that they have written letters to the fund seeking clarification on their benefits but maintain that the feedback they have received so far does not clearly address their questions.
According to Maphalla, he and his fellow former MPs received text messages from their respective banks informing them that money had been paid into their accounts by the fund.
However, Maphalla added, attempts to withdraw the money proved futile for them as they were told by their banks that “the fund had withdrawn the deposits from our accounts”.
“Strangely enough, two days later the money was back in our accounts again,” Maphalla said.
But, Maphalla said, some MPs who had managed to withdraw their monies before the fund withdrew the deposits were told “to repay the money back to the fund”.
Maphalla expressed deep dissatisfaction with the fund, saying it brought them a lot of stress, particularly to families that solely depend on the payouts.
“Our business plans and missions fail because some of us need that money to invest in production for the development of our families,” Maphalla said.
Maphalla said these inconveniences led to the MPs engaging the services of an inflation expert to analyse their investments and ascertain whether their monies were indeed affected by inflation-induced fluctuations as the fund claimed or if they were being underpaid.
“Seeking expertise cost us a lot of money and we ended up getting out of budget, which has a negative impact on the progress of our families,” Maphalla said.
Narrating his experiences on irregularities of the fund to this paper on Friday, former MP and Senkatana party leader Lehlohonolo Tšehlana said the fund “lacks credibility”.
“The fund is unable to handle pension benefits for Basotho,” Tšehlana said.
Tšehlana cited an incident whereby he wanted his benefits calculated adding that, surprisingly, he was given “three different benefits calculations”.
“They presented very different amounts of the benefits I am entitled to,” Tšehlana said.
“The fund is giving the impression of lack of credibility by giving us unclear calculations of our benefits,” Tšehlana said.
According to Tšehlana, the fund calculated his gratuity benefits but “still underpaid me”.
“The fund paid out my gratuities and the money was short by about M50 000,” Tšehlana said.
In addition, Tšehlana said on realising that he was struggling to get help from the fund, he ended up seeking intervention from the office of the Ombudsman.
The Ombudsman is currently handling his case, Tšehlana said.
Tšehlana also revealed that his frustrations led to him considering terminating his membership of the fund but that he was discouraged by the fund’s deputy chairperson of the board of trustees, ‘Machabana Lemphane.
Lemphane, the former MP said, advised him against terminating his membership saying it was through that the fund that they were able to “spot irregularities inside the fund’s Act”.
“To mention a few, it is not clear within the Act how the benefits are going to be administered when a member terminates membership and a specific formula is used to calculate the benefits,” Tšehlana said.
However, he said he was also advised not to terminate his membership because his experiences may be of great use in reviewing the Act.
In addition, Tšehlana said Lemphane told him that his input might be needed in the process as not being a member will “bring difficulties for the reviewing process to sound out for my input”.
He urged the fund to sort its administration strategies out because they bring about financial instability and stress to its clients.
He said MPs who were being disconcerted by the pensions fund were unable to work on a fixed budget because of different calculations adding “that gives a blurred picture to the fund”.
“I am not convinced that after my death my beneficiary will get my benefits when I am already getting a headache as the owner of the benefits,” Tšehlana said.
Speaking to this paper yesterday, Public Officers Defined Contribution Pension’s Fund spokesperson Machona Lebalele said the MPs should know how to “differentiate between a pension fund and a provident fund”.
He said a provident fund gives the total retirement benefits payable as a cash lump sum while the pension fund is payable as 25 percent cash lump sum and 75 percent payable as monthly pension benefit.
“Whoever is saying anything about terminating his membership should terminate his membership and resign before pension time arrives,” Lebalele said.
According to Lebalele, Tšehlana’s case is not confusing because he did not resign from Parliament but “it was his time to go for pension”.
“Tšehlana will be given his 75 percent of pension to be paid on monthly basis,” Lebalele said.
He however said he is unaware of the “payouts and withdrawals that happened to individual members of the fund”.