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04.11.2004 General News

Reduce government presence on SSNIT board - workers

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Accra, Nov. 4, GNA - Ghana's Organised Labour, Thursday noted that there was an over-bearing Government presence on the Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT) Board and called for a reduction in the number of Government appointees on the Board.

Mr Kofi Asamoah, Deputy Secretary General of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), made the call when he presented a memorandum to the Presidential Commission on Pensions on behalf of organised labour, comprising the TUC, Ghana Registered Nurses Association (GRNA), National Association of Graduate Teachers (NAGRAT), Ghana National Association of Teachers (GNAT) and the Civil Servants Association (CSA).

He noted that at present the 14-member SSNIT Board had eight Government appointees and six representatives of workers, saying that, that was not right since workers were the owners of the Trust.

Mr Asamoah said the eight Government appointees on the Board included the Chairman and three other Government representatives as well as one representative each from the Ministry of Finance (MOF), Bank of Ghana (BoG) and the Ministry of Employment and Manpower Development and one more person appointed by the Director-General of SSNIT.

He said the TUC and Ghana Employers Association (GEA) had two representatives each on the Board and the CSA and GNAT had a representative each.

"Although the composition has taken into account the tripartite character to cater for all the vested interests, the weight is unduly skewed in favour of Government," he said.

Mr Asamoah said: "We suggest that the membership of the Board should be reduced from 14 to 11 by cutting down the number of Government representation to four."

He suggested that the BOG representative should be taken off the Board, saying that BoG was under the MOF and since the MOF had a representative on the Board there appeared to be an overlap in their roles.

"Similarly the four persons appointed by the Government, including the Chairman, could be reduced to a Chairman and one other person," he said. Mr Asamoah explained that the law, which established SSNIT, PNDC Law 247, placed the ownership of the Trust in the hands of the contributors, who were the workers and its administration and control in the hands of the Board, who were the trustees.

"By law, therefore, the Government as a settler of the trust has no defined legal or equitable role after setting up the SSNIT Fund and appointing Trustees to be in charge of its operations - once the Trust has been created, it is enforceable by the beneficiaries and not the Government," he said.

He said SSNIT was virtually a private fund but since Government had an intrinsic responsibility for social protection, it could only play a regulatory role instead of controlling the Board.

In the memo, organised labour also kicked against the oath of secrecy sworn by members of the SSNIT Board before they were admitted to the Board, saying that since the Board was representative of workers, Members were bound to report back to workers, deliberation of the Board.

"The present oath of secrecy required to be taken by Board Members should be reviewed because it may have chilling effect on members - if need be, confidentiality requirements which protect SSNIT's trade secrets and competitiveness may be considered," Mr Asamoah said.

Mr Asamoah also recommended that to ensure transparency and proper accountability in the operations of SSNIT, the Trust should be made accountable directly to Parliament and be made to file annual returns to the House and also report to the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee to answer question.

"SSNIT lacks an effective formal oversight even though the Board and External Auditors ostensibly play that role - indications are that the oversight responsibility is weak, probably because of politics in the appointment of Board Members," he said.

He said there was a need for a reconstitution of the SSNIT Board as well as the redefinition of its responsibilities to reflect best practices.

Mr Asamoah noted that the core business of SSNIT entailed the collection of contributions, investment of such contribution and pension payment, and that though all three roles of SSNIT had suffered some bottlenecks, its investment portfolio was more problematic due to the governmental interference and lack of staff ingenuity.

"It is suggested that SSNIT concentrates on the collection and payment of pensions while it farms out its investment portfolio to better endowed private investment companies who will be ready to take some reasonable amount of risk," he said.

He noted that current objectives of SSNIT were not explicit and sometimes contradictory, saying that SSNIT should be purged of inconsistent laws, typically the Students Loans Law, on the basis of which SSNIT had given away hundreds of millions of cedis of contributors money to students and had not been able to recoup those moneys.

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