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We will brook no undue influence — Manase

Arthur Manase (AM) was appointed acting GM at the National Social security Authority (NSSA) in January on a special assignment to bring about the order at an organisation that has historically been riddled with problems.

Manase tells Business Times reporter Tinashe Makichi (TM) the authority will brook no undue interference as it embarks on a transformation journey.

Find excerpts below:

TM: It is now seven months since you assumed the reins at NSSA, looking back, what would you say have been your major accomplishments to date?

AM: The first half of the year has seen us taking the first steps towards the creation of the new NSSA that we want to have, an organisation that is responsive to the needs of contributors and beneficiaries, an organisation that can be relied on in complimenting government’s economic programmes, an organisation that caters well for its number one resource – its employees.

When I came in, NSSA was in serious turmoil. We have managed to calm matters; we have created a conducive work environment governed by our new mantra of transparency, honesty, and accountability.

We have worked hard to make sure that our staff has good conditions of service. We have constantly reviewed our pension levels to make sure that pensioners have decent pay-outs. We have improved engagements with our stakeholders to ensure that we walk together towards the new NSSA we all crave.

TM: Are there any areas that you feel could have been better managed?

AM: Of course the issue that immediately comes to mind is the welfare of our pensioners and beneficiaries. We all know the impact of the prevailing economic hardships and our pensioners have borne the brunt of it. We have tried as an Authority to mitigate against this by paying discretionary bonuses since April, but we know this is not enough.

However, we also have a responsibility to ensure the sustainability of the fund so it has been a delicate balancing act.

TM: What can one expect from NSSA particularly in light of the reforms that were recently approved by the Government?

AM: The reforms, which came into effect on 1 June 2020, saw the NSSA contribution rate increased to 4.5% from 3.5% of one’s salary. This effectively means the contribution rate is now pegged at 9%, from 7% as employers and employees contribute equally towards the NSSA scheme.

The maximum pensionable income has also been reviewed from ZWL$700 to ZWL$5,000. This is a welcome development that we had been pushing for as the last reforms for NSSA were in 2013.

 Since that time the Authority made several reviews on pay-outs without addressing the income side of the business.

Just in the last year alone, NSSA awarded the following: a discretionary bonus equivalent to a month’s pension to all pensioners, in July 2019; reviewed the minimum pension from ZWL$80 to ZWL$200 for Pension obligation bonds and ZWL$240 for Accident Prevention and Workers Compensation Scheme in October 2019; a bonus equivalent to a 13th cheque in November 2019 and most recently another discretionary bonus equivalent to a month’s pension in April, May, June and in July a bonus of 150%.

All this was done to cushion the pensioners against the rising cost of living. These reviews were motivated by our desire to pay out liveable pensions, but the scheme was now under severe stress.

The good news is that the reforms will enable us to effectively deal with the core issue of benefits pay-outs and we have instructed our actuaries to conduct an actuarial valuation to determine the level of benefits that the scheme can afford to pay with implementation of the necessary reforms.

As usual, the reviews will be taken with consideration on the long-term sustainability of the schemes. We are confident however that this review will give pensioners some measure of relief in these challenging times.

 TM: NSSA has historically been dogged with problems of interference by outside forces, particularly politicians and powerful board members.

From your experience as GM, would you say this is still an issue?

 AM: The issue of good corporate governance is of paramount importance to NSSA and our Minister and board are fully aware that the fortunes of the Authority are dependent on this.

Therefore, we have anchored our business approach on transparency, honesty and accountability. This is not just for NSSA employees, but it starts with our leadership – from the Ministry, board, management and employees.

We would also want all our stakeholders to embrace such a philosophy for the benefit of our country. NSSA’s success is anchored on the observance of good corporate governance.

We will brook no undue influence.

TM: How would you rate your relationship with the tripartite partners – government, labour and employers?

AM: We have good relations with our partners. The recently gazetted reforms bear testimony to this because this would not have been possible without their support. We engaged our stakeholders last year to discuss the plight of the scheme and it was unanimously agreed that the reforms were needed for the sustainability of NSSA.

 What particularly gives me comfort is the openness and quality of discussions whenever we meet with our partners. Discussions are often candid, with robust debate, and this safeguards the future of NSSA.

TM: You have often said that NSSA is on a transformation journey anchored on transparency, honesty and accountability. There are however claims that you have been accused of allegedly victimising employees which has seen you firing some top executives, including the head of procurement and downgrading the position from executive to a managerial position. Is this part of plans to create your own cartel?

AM: As I stated earlier, we have embarked on transforming NSSA into an organisation that can be the pride of Zimbabwe and Africa. It would be counterproductive of me to victimise the very people who will help us achieve this objective. I do not know where the allegations are coming from. It’s a fact of life that it is impossible to please everyone, but most staff at NSSA can testify that we have ushered in a new era of openness and honest dialogue. From the very first day I assumed office, I introduced a weekly staff bulletin, where

I keep NSSA employees appraised of my vision and activities undertaken in pursuit of it. Just recently, I spoke strongly against victimisation of subordinatesby managers and sternly warned those in positions of leadership to desist from doing so. I also implored on staff to desist from leaking company secrets to external publics.

No organisation can survive a situation where every house secret is exposed to the public. As a leader, I am duty-bound to provide both love and counsel to my subordinates. I do not know how some may misconstrue my candidness as victimisation; my prayer is that someday they will come to appreciate the good we’re trying to achieve.

 It would, of course, be naïve to believe that everyone is happy that NSSA is now on a successful trajectory hence these malicious falsehoods which are being spread in the media. They are meant to derail the good work being done, they should be dismissed with the contempt they deserve. On the other issue, it is totally incorrect that I fired the head of procurement. The contract of employment of the last incumbent expired in the normal way.

Secondly, under PRAZ regulations, the head of procurement should report to the chief accounting officer, who happens to be the General Manager at NSSA. The forensic audit report also found that the position had been planted on the organogram irregularly without ministerial approval. We are currently regularising the position and it was our hope all along that the former incumbent would be accommodated in the new structures once approved by the ministry.

The position retains the same grade. Any other senior executives who have left NSSA have left either voluntarily in search of greener pastures or have been dismissed following disciplinary proceedings. As you know NSSA is implementing recommendations of the forensic audit report which revealed a lot of shenanigans that were happening in NSSA. We are on a mission to correct these wrongs.

TM: There are also allegations that there has been unwarranted Board splitting at NSSA aimed at siphoning funds from the social security authority in the form of board fees. We are informed that at one time there was a board meeting that stretched for five days without proper justification. Can you please comment on this?

AM: There is absolutely no truth in this. Matters to do with board sittings are subject to the Public Entities and Corporate Governance Act, which clearly spells out what can be done and what cannot. Where it is necessary to hold extraordinary meetings, permission is sought from the responsible minister. It would be self-defeating for the NSSA board to do anything that contravenes set governance procedures.

TM: Can you please explain the scope behind NSSA venturing into goat farming? AM: As NSSA we have a robust investment process guided by an Investment Policy.

Investment proposals are evaluated based on income, growth, and impact. We carry out fundamental due diligence and will only invest in assets that meet our minimum investment return and security of funds. Once we complete the due diligence process every investment goes through an approval process involving the Board and the parent Ministry.

Please rest assured that if ever we go into goat farming the returns will justify the investment.

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