Feature Article of Saturday, 10 March 2012

Columnist: Obodai, Nana Poku

Sabotage At The National Pensions Regulatory Authority


On Friday, 25th February, 2011, I woke up to the shocking news of the resignation of the Acting Chief Executive of the National Pensions Regulatory Authority (NPRA), Dr. Daniel Seddoh!! Many personalities in all spheres of life have at one point or the order resigned from their various roles, owing to several factors. It should therefore not have come as a surprise to me, but for the fact that it follows on the heels of recent developments on the pensions front, which include among others, complaints, general dissatisfaction about the handling of pension issues in the country and newspaper reports of efforts to sabotage the work of the Pensions Regulatory Authority by faceless members of the Board with political leanings to the NPP.

I have taken my time as a key stakeholder in the pensions reform process to critically analyze the issues raised by the Ag CEO in his letter of resignation vis- a- vis rumors, newspaper reports, facts and from my interactions with some management staff of the NPRA who have at various fora expressed misgivings about the growth of the NPRA. I must admit that the contents of the letter from the Ag CEO, though candid, would not have made me write this piece, but for the language expressed clearly by the Board Chairman in the memo attached to the resignation letter; one suggestive of a Board Chairman who has over the period personalized issues for discussion at Board meetings for a key institution like the NPRA.The resignation by the NPRA’s Ag CEO requires further probing by H.E The President of the Republic of Ghana, if indeed he has set his eyes on the letter. I also hope that a foot licking, parochial - interest seeking person in the NDC does not see this as a unique job opportunity, offering little advice to the President on the eminent danger associated with leaving such a critical body unattended to! I will in another part of this analysis, narrow my critique to the role of the CEO in all the issues he raised in his letter and especially to the issues he could have helped address.
The National Pensions Regulatory Authority (key facts):

• The new Pension Law, the National Pensions Act, 2008(Act 766) was enacted on December 12th, 2008.
• The National Pensions Act caters for the establishment of a new contributory three-tier pension scheme with a National Pension Regulatory Authority to oversee the efficient administration of the composite pension scheme.
• The Board of the National Pensions Regulatory Authority, Chaired by Mr. Richard Kwame Asante, was inaugurated on 31st August, 2009.
• The New Pension Scheme was launched by His Excellency, Prof. J. E.A. Mills on 16th September, 2009.
• The implementation of the new scheme started on 1st January, 2010 with the mandatory first and second tiers.
• Transitional Guidelines for the voluntary third tier provident fund and personal pension scheme has been published and it took effect from 1st May 2010.
From the facts stated above, it is evident that the Authority’s Board was inaugurated on the 31st August 2009, under the leadership of Mr. Richard Nana Kwame Asante. This critique is not going to be about the character traits of Mr. Asante from his work at the GNTC, Procurement Authority, Kwame Asante, & Associates etc., nor will I attempt to describe him the way many people view him and his dealings, but his contributions and leadership to the Authority since assuming Chairmanship of the Board of the NPRA. Many who know Mr. Asante often acknowledge his clout as a reputable and astute chartered accountant with many years of experience. His selection to the Chairmanship position did not come as a surprise to many, and especially to members of the ruling party, as he has had long standing relations with most of its power brokers in times past. It is instructive to note that before the resignation of the current CEO, Mr. Daniel Aidoo-Mensah had acted as CEO in the same Authority just about a year ago.
At the inauguration of the Board in August 2009, Mr. Asante said among others that “Your Excellency, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen with such high expectations I must admit that the new Board of the Authority, which I chair, has been entrusted with a monumental assignment which underpins Ghana’s social and economic development. Our success will be felt within and beyond the borders of Ghana as it will affect hundreds and thousands of Ghanaians who in the past did not have any hope for the future.
Your Excellency, to be able to carry out our work successfully I would like to acknowledge a few challenges which will lead us to knock on your door for the consideration of Government. I will mention only a few:
1. There will be the need for adequate office accommodation to reflect the status of this important organ of the nation.
2. We shall need all the support to recruit the appropriate qualified staff with attractive remuneration to undertake this major national responsibility.
3. We will appeal to the Government to provide the necessary logistics and equip the Authority to enable the Board deliver on its mandate.”
Two and half years after this statement, I wish to enquire from the Board Chairman the following;
• Did Government renege on its pledge to support the NPRA?
• Did Government over the period stop the Authority from recruiting staff, acquiring accommodation and setting up regional offices as required by Act 766?
• What about budgetary support from the donor partners he mentioned as major sources of funding for NPRA. Did this also stop?
• With the resignation of the Ag CEO, it brings to two (2) the number of persons to have vacated the position in less than a year and under your leadership. Is it the case that these astute professionals were inept at their jobs or the task was too herculean?
• As a follow up to the question above, are the issues of micro-managing and insubordination tactics employed by you accountable for 2 CEO’s vacating in less than a year?
• What is the current status of implementation of the pensions Act? Where are we as stakeholders i.e. Trustees, Fund Managers, Custodians?
• What about the contributions of many workers across Ghana to the 2nd Tier? Where are all the monies being paid channeled? What are the Investment returns, Mr. Chairman and do workers look forward to better pensions than previously experienced under SSNIT?
• Mr. Chairman, is it true that you have contracted your cronies to manage everything related to the Authority? From fund management to information technology verification? What about contracts drawing up a strategic plan? Is that Strategic plan ready? If not, what strategy informed your decision to unilaterally award an ICT Verification to the same company?
• Is it true that whenever you visit the Authority, you choose to reside in the offices of the Ag Head of Corporate Affairs? On one of your trips to the U.K, it is rumored that you refused to come back from the trip on time, and chose to stay with the same lady Ag. Head of External Affairs. What is the relationship? Information available from the Public Services Commission indicates that you bandied the organization and influenced its decision at arriving at the choice of the same lady as Director of Corporate Affairs, when she was clearly disqualified for many reasons. Is this true?
• Allegations persist of your involvement in day to day administration, often resulting in signing cheques, requesting administrative documents be copied you, and riding an official vehicle of the Authority and being fuelled on weekly basis by same Authority. Baffling still, Mr. Chairman is the assertion that you requested, and has been granted an office, situated in the inner office of the same lady at the Authority’s newly acquired premises. What is this style of governance?
• How many meetings has your Board had within the past two and half years? Specify what policy decisions you made that you feel has given growth to the pensions sector?
Now on to my analysis, I will commence with doing a cross analysis of the composition of the current Board of the NPRA. Unlike many other Boards, the NPRA has a Board constituted of many workers unions, trade groups etc. with minimal representation from the government of Ghana. The current Board comprises of the following personalities;
• Mr. Richard Kwame Asante (Chairman) - Appointed by H.E the President
• Dr. Thomas Ango Bediako (Member) - Former Board Chair, Pensions Reforms Committee
• Dr. Daniel Seddoh (Member) – Ag CEO / Member
• Mr. Kofi Otutu Adu Labi (Member) – Representing Bank of Ghana
• Mr. Samuel Anang Ababio (Member) – Representing Retired Pensioners
• Dr. Yaw Baah (Member) – Dep. Sec General, representing TUC
• Mr. Kenneth A. Okwabi (Member) - Representing SEC
• Dr. Josiah Aryeh (Member) - President’s nominee
• Hon. Ebo Barton Odro (Member) – Attorney General’s Dept.
• Nancy L. Dzah (Member) – Ministry of Employment and Social Welfare rep.
• Oko- Nikoi Dzani ( Member )- Ghana Employers Association representative
Apart from the Board Chairman and Dr. Josiah Aryeh who are direct appointees of the President, the other members represent various interest groups and much of the debate on pensions focuses on what their mother unions require of them. Evidently, the political clout of all the members of the Board is minimal if not non- existent and with Dr. Aryeh mostly absent from meetings, the task of managing such a herculean task as the pensions sector became the sole responsibility of the Board Chairman. A closer look at the names also reveals an Akan ‘Mafia’ who will support each other, especially when parochial interests set in.
I am reluctant to continue discussing allegations being made against the Chairman, but for the fact that, knowing fully well these facts were in the public domain, he should have acted with dispatch to ensure that the wrangling’s between him and the Ag. CEO was resolved. For failing to do so, thereby creating a vacuum in leadership, which has the potential of crippling the already crawling infant pensions industry, I will start my analysis of the performance of the Board by first discussing the roles played by the Chairman. Or, will the Chairman assure me that all the resources I put into setting up an organization for the management of pensions in Ghana will be secured in the long term by his behavior?
The Role of the Chairman:
A. Mr. Asante is an astute chartered accountant, philanthropist, lecturer and renowned member of the ruling party. He assumed the reins as Chairman of a very infant pensions Authority in 2009.It was the expectation of all that with his vast experience, he would bring his leadership to bear , first on the policies and direction of the Board and later the Authority as a whole. And leadership he has provided, albeit as a tyrannical and brutal dictator!! Three reasons account for this assertion from the resignation letter of the Ag CEO;
a. In the third paragraph, the Ag CEO says “the memo from the Chairman is purely an attempt to play the Ag CEO against the Board and Government. The Board is certainly aware of my concerns and frustrations in running this Authority and these I have raised in one form or other to Board members”.
b. Again , he says “ in my early days in office, the Ag Deputy CEO and I committed ourselves to developing a compensation package but from some reason we cannot understand, we did not obtain the early support of the Board’
c. “The Board Chairman is signing cheques, demanding all administrative correspondence be copied him, ,writing letters to override that written by the Ag CEO, bypasses the Executive to obtain information from subordinates ,instruct them and deal with third party service providers in the execution of their contract.
In all the meetings I have ever attended as a stakeholder in this pensions industry, you get the feeling the man loves attention and importance. Presenting himself as a repository of knowledge, he makes commitments he clearly knows cannot be fulfilled and turns around to put pressure on his management. Refer to his interviews in the Daily Graphic and other media including Joy Fm. Is it the case that the recruitment processes of the Authority, which has budgetary allocations from Central government from as far back as last year have been scuttled by the Chairman because he knows his influence on the Authority will wane? What are the Internal Audit and other agencies doing with regards to the Board Chairman signing cheques? What have the Board members done about these developments?
B. Sabotage?
i. From the letter and from frustrations of some staff, you reckon that every action being undertaken on a daily basis at the NPRA must have the permission of the Board Chairman. Procurement frustrations, accommodation processes, general issuance of contracts to third party service providers , business with the Authority, Donor support and funding, governance and general administration have all become an integral part of the Chairman’s schedule. According to the Ag CEO “the straw that broke the camel’s back was the humiliation he suffered in the presence of third party service providers..
ii. In the year 2010, government made available resources for maximization of the Authority. Strangely, a large chunk of that allocation was returned to the coffers of government. It again happened in 2011, this time even after applicants were interviewed and reports made available.
iii. During the process of acquiring a suitable place for accommodation, it is alleged that the Board Chairman frustrated all actions until he was able to negotiate his own terms for accommodation with an agent and in the process pocketing a certain percentage of the amount paid. Today, after thwarting earlier efforts to procure items for the new premises, he accepted albeit after the Procurement Authority, according to the Ag CEO, confirmed him as the Chairman of the Entity Tender Committee. Suffice to say the Board Chairman is the Vice Chairman of the same Procurement Authority? Again, the Chairman requests that he must be given an office space in the new building, and changes needed be made to accommodate him .As I write, my information is that the request has been granted!! Because of all his earlier attempts, the entire procurement process stalls, and he still requires all staff to move to such an edifice?
C. Governance Problems?
What makes the work of any Board Chairman meaningful is their ability to turn situations around to the benefit of their organizations, as representatives of the President. That is why it is baffling that the Board approved salaries of the Authority were not approved. How is it that the salaries and conditions of the Regulatory Authority is by far less than the sector workers it has been tasked to regulate? That should have been the baffling concern of the Chairman and not his memo which sought to ask why the Ag CEO disagrees with the conditions given to them as Executives! As indicated by the Ag CEO, corporate governance has been a major challenge. Simply, the Chairman does not see how he cannot be in charge of the day to day administration of the NPRA and with his political clout gets letters overridden by officials at the Presidency, to benefit him.
It happened with the World Bank Conference last year in November and will certainly happen again……….. To be continued