The Government Pension Administration Agency (GPAA) briefed the Committee on their quarterly performance. It currently had about 1.28 million active clients and about 500 000 pensioners and beneficiaries, and R57 billion of the annual revenue had been collected. The Agency serviced about 478 government departments, and a total of R81 billion had been paid out in benefits in the 2014/15 financial year.
The GPAA had done very well in terms of carrying out an employee satisfaction survey, but had fallen short in terms of the work skills training plan. The total number of benefits paid per month averaged 535 476 per month, together with 19 027 once-off payments in the first quarter. It had been encouraging to see that there had been an improvement in the last five years in the time it took for government departments to provide the GPAA with correct information, and the time it took to process and pay out the claims.
It was a cause for concern that there had been an increase in the number of resignations of government employees. Withdrawals from the system had increased from 60 000 claims in the previous financial year to 75 000 claims (25%) in the current financial year. The GPAA had conducted an investigation into this increase in the withdrawals and initially it had appeared that there was a concern that the government wanted to nationalise peoples’ pensions. There had been a lot of initiatives that had been conducted by GPAA in terms of spreading the message that their pensions were safe. It had also been discovered that most of the members were indebted and most them saw resignation as the best way of paying off the debts and then re-joining the public service shortly afterwards, and this was detrimental to the members because of the principles of compound interest and the end benefits that were dependent on the length of service. The GPAA would need to improve on the financial literacy of its members so that people could be aware of the repercussions of early withdrawal from the system.
The GPAA had identified a number of challenges and an aggressive strategy to eliminate payment backlogs had been implemented. GPAA was particularly concerned about unclaimed benefits. One reason was that when members passed away, most of the beneficiaries they left behind had been registered when they were as young as two or three-year-olds, and it was the responsibility of the GPAA to track them. The second challenge was the fact that the addresses of the employees that had been captured in the system were those where they worked, and not home addresses, and the GPAA had to try and link the work address to home addresses. It was sitting with a balance of R574 million of unclaimed benefits as of 31 March 2015.
Members expressed concern about the increase in the number of withdrawals from the system as this was likely to impact on GPAA, and asked whether there were any measures in place to remedy the situation. The issue of unclaimed benefits required some level of financial literacy to advise the clients to comply with certain requirements of the pension fund. They asked if the GPAA had been affected by the current crisis at African Bank or any other investment institutions. They wanted to know if it had considered a way of introducing incentives that would deal with the immediate challenge of indebtedness, particularly to clients that had been in the system for very long time. How was it dealing with the issue of fraud and corruption, as the management of the fund was likely to impact on the financial security the GPAA?
A Member expressed dismay that the Military Pensions Act had last been amended in 1976, as there were military soldiers who had been at the forefront of committing atrocities under the apartheid regime but were getting the same benefits as those who had fought for democracy. The GPAA was also asked how its rules affected members with multiple partners.
Chairperson’s opening remarks
The Chairperson welcomed everyone to the meeting and expressed concern that the Government Pension Administration Agency (GPAA) had brought a large number of Board members. He suggested that in future there should be only about four Board members present at the Committee, unless there were any specific circumstances.
Briefing by Government Pension Administration Agency (GPAA)
Mr Krishen Sukdev, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), GPAA, said that 93% of the budget of GPAA came from the Government Employees Pension Fund (GEPF) and 7% was from the National Treasury (NT) programmes. The GPAA currently had about 1.28 million active clients and about 500 000 pensioners and beneficiaries, and R57 billion of the annual revenue had been collected. It serviced about 478 government departments and a total of R81 billion had been paid in benefits in the 2014/15 financial year.
Under corporate strategic performance, GPAA had a total of 23 annual indicators for corporate services in sub-programme 1.1. There were 4 measures under corporate services, and it had done very well in terms of carrying out an employee satisfactory survey and having the governance framework, but had only partially achieved its carbon footprint. The GPAA had fallen short in terms of the works skills training plan and there was a process in place to address this problem in the second quarter.
Mr Sukdev said that in Financial Services, under sub-programme 1.2, there were two indicators that were measured and the GPAA had achieved both of them, including the identification of the finding that would result in a clean audit and also the provision of the inputs in terms of the costing model for benchmarking the expenses and the services that were provided.
There was only one indicator to be measured under Business Enablement in sub-programme 1.3, and the GPAA had achieved in this aspect. There was also one indicator to be measured under Strategic Support in sub-programme 1.4, and it had partially achieved this target. This was again a matter to be addressed in the second quarter. There was one indicator to be measured under Internal Audit in sub-programme 1.5, and the GPAA had once again partially achieved in this instance, mainly in the internal audit support service functions.
Moving to the NT programmes in sub-programme 2.1, there were three indicators to be measured and the GPAA had exceeded in all of the targets. There were three indicators to be measures under the GEPF in sub-programme 2.2, and the GPAA had exceeded in two indicators and partially achieved in one. There was one indicator to be measured in Customer Relations Management (CRM) in sub-programme 2.3, and the GPAA had also exceeded in this aspect.
Mr Sukdev said that the allocated budget for the GPAA had increased from R781 077 in 2013/14 financial year to R 1 388 494 in 2015/16, and expected to increase in the coming financial years. The budget that had been allocated to the compensation of employees had increased from R327 994 in 2013/14 to R375 906 in 2014/15, and was projected to increase to R553 687 in the 2018/19 financial year. The budget for goods and services was R210 658 in 2013/14 and was expected to increase to R566 776 in the 2018/19 financial year. The budget for capital expenditure was R146 385 in 2013/14, and was expected to decline to R144 730 in 2018/19. The allocated budget for modernisation was R96 040 in 2013/14 and this was expected to decline significantly to R12 141 in 2018/19.
The approved budget for the GPAA for 2015/16 was R1 388 494 as at 31 August 2015. The total number of benefits paid averaged approximately 535 476 per month, together with approximately 19 027 once-off payments in the first quarter. It had been encouraging to see that there had been an improvement in the last five years in the time it took for government departments to provide the GPAA with correct information, and the time it took to process and pay out claims. The GPAA was now getting the claims more and more quickly from government departments, and the cooperation of a large number of relevant stakeholders was imperative to ensure that the whole process ran smoothly.
Mr Sukdev indicated it was a cause for concern that there had been an increase in the number of resignations of government employees. Withdrawals from the system had increased from 60 000 claims in the previous financial year to 75 000 claims (25%) in the current financial year. The GPAA had tried to conduct an investigation into this increase in the withdrawals and initially it had appeared that there was a concern that the government wanted to nationalise peoples’ pensions. There had been a lot of initiatives that had been conducted by GPAA in terms of spreading the message that their pensions were safe. It had also been discovered that most of the members were indebted and most them saw resignation as the best way of paying off the debts and then re-joining the public service shortly afterwards, and this was detrimental to the members because of the principles of compound interest and the end benefits that were dependent on the length of service. The GPAA would need to improve on the financial literacy of its members so that people could be aware of the repercussions of early withdrawal from the system.
There had been a lot of benefits from the modernisation that had been introduced at the GPAA, including the auto life verification system, online submission of exit documentation, call centre optimisation and the Outreach and Customer Liaison Officers, and these had all made it easier to process the claims more efficiently. There had been challenges with payment backlogs, and an aggressive strategy to eliminate backlogs had been implemented. The GPAA was particularly concerned about unclaimed benefits, and there was a plan to use tracing tactics that would be reengineered to use multiple data bases, like the Regulation of Interception of Communication Act (RICA), the Finance Intelligence Centre Act (FICA) and South African Revenue Services (SARS). In order to respond to the increase in resignations and exits, there was eChannel that was implemented to simplify interactions between the employer and the GPAA. It was imperative to capacitate the call centre with the customer relations management (CRM) system for first-time call resolution and to deal with high call volumes. There was now a use of outbound calls, correspondence, and SMS notifications to beneficiaries for advice to visit SARS.
In conclusion, the short term focus areas comprised of initiatives to reduce backlogs and unclaimed benefits and taking stock of the operating environment. There would be a focus on data governance and analysis internally, and forging relationships with other government entities, departments and stakeholders.
Ms P Kekana (ANC) said the presentation had been an eye opener to most Members. It would be important to get more information on the pension reforms and the indebtedness of the clients of GPAA. There should be ways to come up with strategies to assist those who had been withdrawing from the system because of indebtedness. The issue of unclaimed benefits required some level of financial literacy to advise the clients to comply with certain requirements of the pension fund so as to avoid a situation where some members were unable to receive the benefits. She wanted to know if the GPAA had been affected by the current crisis at the African Bank, or any other investment institutions.
Ms T Tobias (ANC) said that the country was still facing the triple challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality, and this was likely to impact on other institutions that dealt with insurance, pensions and the banking sector. South Africa was a consumption-based society, and most of the people were not saving enough and this had to be juxtaposed with the challenges that were being experienced by the GPAA, particularly the withdrawal from the system. The issue of cash preservation needed to be prioritised, and the assessment of clients. It was worrisome to hear that the GPAA was taking less time to process the claims, as some of the members might make an emotive decision to withdraw from the system, only to regret it three months later, so the delaying of payment might be a useful discouraging factor. The 25% increase in the withdrawal from the system was particularly concerning, as the contributors to revenue in the country were already low because of the high unemployment rate, and this was likely to have an economic impact, especially in respect of the interest to be generated for investment.
Ms Tobias highlighted that indebtedness was one of the factors that had been driving people to take up the claims, and this would be the issue that the GPAA would need to take into consideration. She wanted to know if the GPAA had considered a way to introduce the incentives that would deal with an immediate challenge of indebtedness, particularly to clients who had been in the system for very long time. It would be important to know if the GPAA would consider the restructuring of the salary in terms of the money that went to insurance. The issue of regulations in the Fund needed to be reviewed so as to deal with the early withdrawal from the system. The property market and the automobile sector had compounded the problem in terms of being unaffordable to people. It was essential to take into consideration that the matter of crass conspicuous consumption in our society could be solved only through the introduction of systems in place and the application of the law, as this was what was driving people to indebtedness. The GPAA needed to prioritise on financial literacy so that people could be educated on investment and long-term planning and the increase in the early withdrawal was the manifestation of this financial illiteracy.
Ms D Mahlangu (ANC) expressed concern about the number of withdrawals from the system, as this was likely to impact on the GPAA, and she asked whether there had been any measures in place that had been taken to remedy situation. It was unclear if the 45 days that was taken by the GPAA to process the claims referred to the withdrawals, or to those who were on pension. It was indeed correct that the issue that was driving people to withdraw from the system was indebtedness, and this was the opposite of what had been reported in the media. It would be helpful for the GPAA to utilise outreach programmes like community radio stations in order to be accessible to the poor, and to provide people with financial literacy especially on the ramifications of early withdrawal from the system.
Ms Mahlangu commended the GPAA for planning to cooperate with other government stakeholders, and said it would be important also to include the Department of Labour (DoL) so as to assist with the challenges that were being experienced by the GPAA. It was disappointing that Members had not been given enough time to peruse the presentation because it was provided only in the morning. She appreciated that the GPAA had managed to identify all the challenges that needed to be addressed and the remedial actions that had been taken to address those challenges.
Mr D Maynier (DA) wanted to know if it was possible to be provided with the actual figures of withdrawals in each month of the first quarter in 2015. What were particular explanations for the peak in withdrawals in February and May 2015? He postulated that the peaks in February and May could be explained by the public perception that the government employee pension funds were to be used to bail out risky State Owned Entities (SOEs) like Eskom.
Mr A Lees (DA) appreciated that the processing of claims was now taking 45 days, but wondered about the reasons why some of the claims had been delayed for four years. He asked about the progress that had been made by the GPAA in terms of seeking assistance from SARS for the fast-tracking of the process of unclaimed benefits, especially since SARS had a huge privacy obligation that needed to be adhered to.
Dr M Khoza (ANC) also appreciated the reforms that had been made by GPAA. She wanted to know about the cost of the administration fee for the beneficiaries or contributors. The GPAA was also administering the Military Pensions in terms of Military Pensions Act 84 of 1976 but it was unclear if the soldiers that were former Mkhonto We Sizwe (MKA) were incorporated in the pension with the current South African Defence Force (SANDF) in terms of beneficiaries. How was the GPAA dealing with the issue of fraud and corruption, as the management of the fund was likely to impact on the financial security of the GPAA? It was indeed true that the problem of voluntary withdrawal from the system was compounded by the problem of indebtedness, and there was nothing political about this matter.
Dr Khoza asked the GPAA if there was a way to engage with the local government sector in order to ring-fence the Local Government Fund (LGF) so as to deal with the administration fees and the trustees that were involved. The majority of the people that were not claiming the funds were those that needed them the most, meaning those in the lower strata of the society. It would be important for the Committee to know about the investment strategy of the GPAA and how this investment strategy was working, as this information would be important for the purpose of oversight. She wanted to put it on record that there was nothing political about the voluntary withdrawal from the system, and it was unfortunate that Mr Maynier always assumed that there was a third force in the challenge from the entities.
The Chairperson wanted to know if it was not possible to pre-empt the voluntary withdrawal of members from the system. The matter of unclaimed benefits was worrisome, and the Committee needed to call together all the relevant stakeholders that were involved in the matter, including the South African Local Government Association (SALGA). The GPAA needed to do more on educating the general so as to be clear about who to benefit in the fund, especially those who had multiple partners. It was difficult to agree with the assertion of Mr Mayinier that one of the reasons for the increase in the voluntary withdrawal from the system was the result of fears that the government employee pension funds were to be used to bailout risky SOEs. He assumed that this assertion might be coming from a certain minority that was disgruntled with government’s performance and the majority party, and mostly those who were reluctant to pay their taxes.
Mr Maynier said that there was no need to defend his question. He only required an answer to it as there had been an outcry on radio and in newspapers that the pension fund was to be used to bail out Eskom and to invest in risky assets, and the postulation could well be that this had led to a lack of confidence and trust in the pension fund.
Dr Khoza wanted to know about the class profile of the unclaimed benefits, as the people that were not getting these benefits were largely those who needed them the most -- mainly those in the lower strata of society. She also requested the actual figures of the amount of unclaimed benefits, not underestimating the matter of anonymity on the information of the members.
Ms Esti de Witt, General Manager: Legal Services, GPAA, responded that the GPAA rules did provide for multiple spouses and for the recognition of multiple spouses and those that were referred to as life partners. The benefit of what was produced as a spouse benefit remained the fixed benefit of whatever amount that would be calculated, and this was whether there was one spouse or three spouses that were recognised -- the same fixed benefit was divided between the numbers of recognised spouses. There was a process where a life partner could be recognised as a life partner of a member, and this included same-sex partners. The most important point to be highlighted was that the benefit was paid once and then equally divided among the number of spouses recognised. It was possible to recognise a life partner prior to the passing away of the member, and this process needed to be confirmed at the time of death in order to ensure that the life partner still remained the life partner of such member by going through with the process in terms of civil or customary Law.
Dr Khoza asked if it was possible for women to nominate having more than one partner, as it looked like this was an unfair system, where women were subsidising the men, as most of the people who were likely to be in a multiple relationship were men.
The Chairperson admitted that there were instances where customary law benefited men at the expense of women. This was the case in the beneficiary of the multiple partners. It would be important to know if there was a way of alerting the male members that if they had multiple partners, they needed to be mentioned and recognised, as the pension fund allowed the share of the benefits to the multiple partners.
Ms de Witt again reiterated that the benefit to the multiple partners remained fixed and then divided between the number of spouses that were recognised. The point had been taken about the need to alert all members, whether male or female, that if they had multiple partners they needed to be mentioned and recognised, as failure to do so often disadvantaged the children involved.
The Chairperson said that the recognition of the multiple partners should not be construed as encouraging multiple partners but dealing with a reality that some members generally assumed that multiple partners could not be recognised in the system.
Ms Tshidi Ikaneng, Chief Risk Officer (CRO), GPAA, responded that there was an internal governance structure at the GPAA, including a fully functional internal audit and the risk management unit, which dealt with enterprise risk management and fraud and forensic management. It had implemented a Fraud Prevention and Integrity Framework that had been advocated by the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA), and there were awareness campaigns on corruption, with a focus internally from staff members and stakeholders. There was more that could be done in terms of bringing more awareness on corruption and fraud and targeting employer departments. The GPAA had recently conducted investigations and identified particular employer departments that could be targeted to introduce awareness training. It had also conducted a fraud risk assessment to ensure that there was awareness from the staff and to allow space to report cases of fraud and corruption. This was part of the “whistle-blowing” mechanism.
Ms Ikaneng added that the GPAA participated in the modernisation space by identifying any controls that needed to be put in place or improved, and had a strategic partnership with the South African Police Service (SAPS) and other forensic units in the banks. It had also picked up that spousal benefit was one of the areas that had been targeted because of the multiple spouses and that was one of the reasons why an investigation was conducted before a claim was approved.
Ms Kedi Madiehe, General Manager: Client Relations Management (CRM), GPAA, responded that the GPAA believed that prevention was better than cure and therefore there was a focus on outreach programmes to educate members about the pension fund and the beneficiaries who were derived from members. It had engaged with more than 58 000 walk-in members in a period of five months through its mobile offices. There was a difference between road shows and the retirement member campaign, as the retirement member campaign targeted members that were about to retire, while the road shows targeted the whole population. The GPAA had been doing awareness programmes in provinces like North West, the Northern Cape and Mpumalanga, and would be in the Western Cape next week. It was also making use of community radio stations so as broaden the message to deep rural areas. These outreach campaigns had been successful in terms of educating members about the GPAA and pension fund. It had engaged with the Department of Justice and Correctional (DJCS) in order to assist with the visibility of the members.
Mr Mongezi Mngqibisa, General Manager: Government Pensions, said that the state insured state employees through the Budget Vote of the NT, and when an employee was injured or died on duty, the employer had an obligation to lodge a claim through the compensation fund. The fund issued an award through the GPAA and that award was an instruction to pay. It currently paid annuities to over 9 000 members. In relation to the question of military pensions, all the MKA and current SANDF benefits were the same. The Military Pensions Act had been promulgated in 1976, and therefore the benefits were equal.
Ms Tobias expressed a concern about the fact that the Military Pensions Act was last amended in 1976 as there are military soldiers that had been at the forefront of committing atrocities under the apartheid regime but were getting the same benefits as the SANDF of the post-apartheid era. There was a need to look at the prescripts of legislation, as it was impossible for someone who had been in service for 20 years, killing innocent people, to be getting the same benefits as those who had fought for democracy.
The Chairperson agreed with the observation that had been made by Ms Tobias, but reminded her that this was part of the negotiated transition that had been accepted by South Africa. He wanted to put it on record that the majority of the aspects in negotiations had gone too far, and this issue of the Military Pensions Act of 1976 was one of those aspects.
Mr Jay Morar, Acting Chief Operations Officer (COO), GPAA, responded that the 45-day period was the time from which the GPAA received a claim to the time of payment, and this was how performance and efficiency was evaluated. The statutory requirement for paying the benefit was 60 days in terms of the law, and the GPAA had gone far beyond that in terms of improving the quality of the service delivery and that had been the reason for setting the target at 45 days for the current financial year. The Committee could be provided with the statistics on the number of withdrawals on a monthly basis. There had been an increase in resignations since July 2014 all the way the way through to the current financial year. The GPAA received an average of between 7 000 and 9 000 claims a month. It would be very interested in involving other partners and stakeholders to deal with the problem of unclaimed benefits, as this was the issue that needed to be addressed.
Mr Phumzile Mda, Acting Chief Financial Officer (CFO), GPAA, said that there were two issues that were contributing to the unclaimed benefits. One was that when members passed away, most of the beneficiaries they left behind had been registered when they were as young as two or three-year-olds, and it was the responsibility of the GPAA to track them. The second challenge was the fact that the addresses of the employees that had been captured in the system were those where they worked, and not home addresses, and the GPAA had to try and link the work address to home address. It was sitting with a balance of R574 million of unclaimed benefits as of 31 March 2015, and these were people who are tracked on a daily basis. The GPAA had links with the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) and there was service provider that was assisting in the tracking of these individuals.
Mr Sefiso Khumalo, Senior Manager: Monitoring and Evaluation, GPAA, said that the withdrawals from the system had started in 2014, and the GPAA had gone to the education sector to find out the reasons, as this issue was more prevalent among teachers. The research had shown that there were many reasons, and these included the limits of benefits and flexibility in the fund structure, prospects of a business venture, and exploitation of the loophole allowing a person to resign and come back immediately. It had also been discovered that some of the members were ill-informed about the benefits, and there had been a negative perspective that had been fuelled by the media around the pension fund. It had to be reiterated that the problem of indebtedness was one of the main drivers that was fuelling members to withdraw from the system.
Ms Tobias indicated that it was concerning that the GPAA was sitting with an amount of R574 million of unclaimed benefits, as this money was accruing interest on a daily basis. She wondered if it was possible for the GPAA to donate the money to the NT for other programmes to assist the poor.
Dr Khoza believed that the GPAA had not done enough in terms of tracking down the beneficiaries, as she was yet to come across any notice in the local newspapers or on community radio stations looking for the beneficiaries. She had observed that massive houses had been built in rural areas. This showed that perhaps people were choosing to withdraw from the system and then build massive houses or buy expensive cars, and this was the matter that GPAA needed to address.
The Chairperson wanted to know if any warning was given to those who were withdrawing from the system, especially on ensuring that members were fully aware that there were detrimental repercussions for early withdrawal from the system.
Ms Bridgette Diutlwileng, Parliamentary Senior Researcher, asked if the research that had been done by GPAA had looked at the demographic profile of the members that had been resigning, and whether these members were located in rural or urban areas. This kind of information was important to determine the number of people that could be reabsorbed into the labour market and those that would fall under unemployment, as these people were likely to affect the social wage, which was already high.
The Chairperson asked if the GPPA was anticipating any increase in withdrawals from the system because of the economic pressure. He also asked if there was anyone who had indicated that one of the reasons for withdrawing from the system was the fear that the pension fund could be used to bail out risky SOEs.
Mr Sukdev said that the Committee would be provided with a written response on the number of withdrawals on a monthly basis, the demographic profile of the members that had been resigning and the geographical location of those members.
Mr Khumalo responded that early withdrawal from the system was more prevalent among teachers, and the age of early withdrawals ranged from 40 years upwards. It had been found that even those that were close to the age of retirement mostly opted for resignation. There had been no evidence that people had resigned because of a fear that the pension fund could be used to bail out risky SOEs.
The Chairperson wanted to know about the time it took for the teachers who had resigned to be back to the teaching profession.
Mr Morar responded that the trends of resignations had started in July 2014, and it had been noted that some of provinces still allowed the teachers to come back immediately after resignation. The Premier of Mpumalanga had taken a decision not to allow the teachers to come back immediately, and had stipulated a “cooling off period” of three months before coming back to teaching.
Ms Mahlangu appreciated that Mpumalanga had taken the decision to allow a “cooling off period.” The Department of Basic Education (DBE) was on a campaign to stop this trend of teachers that resigned and then immediately returned to the teaching profession.
Ms Tobias suggested that the Committee needed to meet with the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education in order to address the high resignation rate of the teachers. Members needed not make any recommendations as yet on the matter, as this applied to the broader problem of a lack of professionals like teachers, nurses and doctors that were needed in the system.
Mr Moyar said that the GPAA issued benefit statements on a yearly basis, and there was a disclaimer advising members of the benefits that were shown on the statement. The GPAA had not issued any benefit statements in the current financial year because of the higher resignations, and there was still a consideration on how to add more value to the benefit statements. The average cost of administration per member in the previous financial year had amounted to less than R40 per month, and this included all the road shows and outreach programmes that had been done.
Mr Sukdev said that the investment strategy was run by the GPAA in terms of the administration of funds. It had only discovered the trend of resignations too late, and therefore it had been impossible to stop the payments that had already been processed. Members needed to take into consideration that the GPAA did not have a legislative mandate to do financial planning. It had made it very clear that the issue of early withdrawals was detrimental to the members and to the economy. In relation to the question of indebtedness of members, the GPAA was reliant on the National Credit Act to ensure that members could incur only the debts that they could afford. Most of the matters were outside its control.
Mr Cliff Ferguson, Senior Manager: Strategy and Policy, GPAA, said that GPAA was currently busy working with 13 entities, including the banks, in order to get data on unclaimed benefits without interfering with different policies and legislation. There was also a focus on ways to combat cyber crime by securing the data.
The Chairperson said that the GPAA should respond to all the outstanding questions that had not been answered within seven days. He suggested that the Committee should meet for 15 minutes before the meeting on 15 September 2015 to discuss the way forward regarding the early withdrawals from the system.
The meeting was adjourned.