Agriculture Minister unaware of pension fund status

first_imgAttempts to ascertain the status of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) pension fund, which reports indicate is in a deficit, have hit a proverbial roadblock as the Minister responsible for the sector is unaware of its status.When contacted on Monday about the status of the fund, Agriculture Minister Noel Holder said he was unable to say whether the fund was in a deficit or healthy.According to the Minister, who is overseas, he would not be able to provide information on Government’s plan to secure financial benefits for pensioners as he was not “up to date” on the situation. He referred Guyana Times to acting GuySuCo Chief Executive Officer Paul Bhim, noting that he should provide an update on the situation before it is escalated to him. According to Holder, however, he would seek clarification from GuySuCo himself on the matter. Efforts to contact Bhim proved futile.In the past, there has been confusion over who has responsibility for GuySuCo – Minister Holder or Finance Minister Winston Jordan. The Special Purpose Unit (SPU) is an arm of the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL), itself an arm of the Finance Ministry. The SPU has been leading the divestment of GuySuCo. Jordan has since affirmed that the Finance Ministry was overseeing the “rump” GuySuCo.Acting GuySuCo CEOPaul BhimOver the weekend, eligible pensioners have questioned whether they would be treated like the bauxite workers in Region 10. A senior manager, who is part of the fund, told this publication that in 2002, the then Government had signed an agreement with the two large bauxite unions, providing six weeks’ severance pay for every year of service, with a cap of 104 weeks.Additionally, the Government committed to pay the pension plan deficit and bring up to date outstanding payments for NIS and PAYE. The Manager said that almost $3 billion was paid out by Government to fulfil these obligations.This newspaper was also told that, separate from the payout, the Bauxite Industry Pension Plan (BIPP) was wound up and the full benefits were paid to all members of the bauxite industry pension plan.This is a major concern for another beneficiary of the GuySuCo pension plan called STEPS (Sugar Trading Enterprise Pension Scheme), which is the largest pension plan in the country. Its officials have said there seemed to be no focus on protecting the workers’ benefits and ensuring fair treatment of sugar workers.Just over 5400 sugar workers were dismissed as Government closed four sugar estates and vested their assets into NICIL since the end of 2017.There is major fear that Government would short-change the workers, a former employee told Guyana Times on Saturday.“Instead of the workers being paid both their contribution and that of GuySuCo, workers are concerned that they may end up with far less than the same treatment enjoyed by the bauxite industry,” a former senior staffer stated.The STEPS Fund has a history of negative figures, but several persons have opined that with the closure of several estates and the downsizing of the industry, there will be an influx of persons into the pension system.Reports are that the Employees Retirement Benefits are in negative territory by $1.1 billion, as opposed to $2.4 billion in 2014, according to the 2015 financial statements produced by GuySuCo. And according to well-placed sources, the state of the fund has not improved.A former employee of the Corporation had told this newspaper that Demerara Distillers Limited (DDL) pulling out from the fund has added pressure on it.The ex-employee had expressed the view that Government had to be aware of the dilemma. He said this on the basis that there was no likelihood that foreign investors would have joined the fund, as the Financial Act currently prohibits certain levels of offshore investment.last_img

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