Saturday, February 24, 2024

BOYCOTT FAFICS: Call to action to boycott FAFICS (the Federation of Associations of Former International Civil Servants), 24 February 2024

I believe it’s  timely, with the recent announcement by AFICS/NY of its upcoming annual meeting, to renew the call for a boycott of FAFICS -- the Federation of Associations of Former International Civil Servants with 60 associations world-wide, the purported representative of UN retirees including on important matters such as pension. 

See CISUA’s letter to the Secretary-General dated 21 February 2024 posted, below about the firing of four whistleblowers in the UN Pension Fund's Office of Investment Management, amid indications that more may be terminated, (quote): “We are also very concerned that the Organisation has failed to uphold Secretary-General Bulletin 2017/2/Rev.1 on Protection against retaliation for reporting misconduct and for cooperating with duly authorized audits or investigations [and] . . . that your actions, in firing so many OIM staff at once and in preventing staff from raising genuine concerns, creates an unacceptable risk to the management of Pension Fund assets.” 

This is only the latest action in which the Pension Board and FAFICS are active participants -- not merely complicit -- in the secretive and repressive culture surrounding the Fund, and in enabling the Fund leadership to avoid accountability, retaliate against, and now fire whistleblowers. 

 

Perhaps the FAFICS rallying cry many of its members are most familiar with is “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” (documented in its 2020 annual report)! -- while they risk breaking it by their own action and inaction. 

 

Recall that in 2020, FAFICS led the charge (again, evident in its 2020 annual report) to dismiss and shelve the almost 200-page independent governance report by Mosaic Governance Advisors, that reportedly cost the Fund (us, the Fund owners) $200,000. 


Mosaic compared the Fund with best practices among international public pension funds and found (quote) "insufficient clarity, transparency, and communication at all levels within the governance structure and with stakeholders (and) …rebuilding trust should be a priority”. 


Let that sink in: ‘rebuilding trust’. Mosaic found a lack of trust surrounding the Fund, one of the most fundamental values that one would expect to be present in any pension fund.

 

Not surprisingly, Mosaic also found “confusion” about roles, mandates and the meaning of fiduciary responsibility among Board members. Overall, and using diplomatic language, it found “significant variance” between Fund governance and best practices in the industry, and included “appropriate fiduciary training” for its members (II.I.B) among its many recommendations for aligning the Fund with industry standards. 


Recall that AFICS/NY revealed its anti-transparency antics as far back as 2016 when it notoriously and secretly wrote to OIOS discouraging an audit of benefits payments during a period when the Fund was experiencing unprecedented delays by which some Fund members were waiting up to two years for their pension payments. 

 

FAFICS has never relented in its tactics, and was part of the effort of the Pension Board to adopt onerous “confidentiality” requirements to use as a cudgel to quash dissent. 


In July 2022, facing a threat of expulsion from the board, CCISUA (the authors of this recent letter) chose to withdraw from that year's session of the Pension Board, as, it said, it “does not believe that a culture of secrecy contributes to the effective governance of an $80 billion public pension fund…” 

 

Make no mistake: it's not only about retiree interests. The actions of the purported UN retiree representative organization impacts ALL Fund members -- active and retired UN staff. FAFICS has non-voting status but punches far above its weight on pension matters.

 

FAFICS makes periodic cosmetic changes in its leadership. But the culture remains closed and autocratic. And no matter who’s publicly “leading”, the same AFICS/NY emerati-for-life continue to hold leadership positions and pull the strings from behind the curtain, while also occupying key seats on Pension Fund committees. 

 

I understand that the AFICS/NY boycott that I called for some years ago may have had more of an impact than I expected. AFICS/NY leaders have managed to get donations from the UNFCU to make up for a gap in member donations. (I hope UNFCU leaders will read this post). 

 

I’m now calling again for UN retirees worldwide, retired or about to retire, to withhold payment of dues or decline to join FAFICS-- all its associations -- or attend meetings and events, until the FAFICS leadership commits to real organizational change concerning its responsibility to its constituents including in transparency, communication, and most important, responsible Fund oversight as members of the Pension Board. 


UN retirees and staff must actively demonstrate our support for CCISUA's efforts. We cannot in good conscience stand by idly while UN staff union leaders are divided and co-opted, and whistleblowers in the UN Pension Fund are fired for voicing their concerns.


Often the only way for those responsible  to get the message is through their dwindling coffers. The fate of those fighting for our common interests, and the sustainability of our Fund, are at stake.

 

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

UN General Assembly requests information on the UNJSPF’s performance in comparison with peers. Plus read the latest on the Fund’s performance by its Former Chief Risk Officer, 10 January 2024

“In the CEM universe it [the Fund] looks great, but in TUCS it's closer to the bottom 5%... TUCS [measures]  performance ranking and CEM [measures] cost ranking… If you don't survive short term, long term does not matter. “ 


In response to an annual report almost devoid of information on investment performance coupled with consistently rosy reports on the topic emanating from the Office of Investment Management,  I sent two open letters to the Representative of the Secretary-General for Investments, Pedro Gauzo, on 15 October 2023 http://unpension.blogspot.com/2023/10/open-letter-to-pedro-guazo.htmland on 8 November 2023. http://unpension.blogspot.com/2023/11/second-open-letter-to-representative-of.html

 

Neither letter has received a direct response. Rather, they appear to have triggered a flurry of postings of investment reports on the Fund’s website and ever more strenuous statements about the Fund’s positive investment performance vis a vis its peers, the latest in the Fund’s New Year’s message on 3 January 2023. 

https://www.unjspf.org/newsroom/year-end-message-from-rosemarie-mcclean-and-pedro-guazo-on-the-un-joint-staff-pension-fund-2/#:~:text=Our%20governing%20bodies%27%20sustained%20support,our%20best%20wishes%20for%202024.

Questions on the topic are coming from other sources as well.  In its latest resolution (A/78/662, para. 3), the General Assembly endorsed the recommendation of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) (A/78/7.Add.1, para. 12) that it requests information from the Secretary-General about the Fund’s performance in comparison with its peers.

An analysis of the Fund’s investment performance by its Former Chief Risk Officer in October 2023 formed the basis of the questions posed to the RSG in the two open letters last year.

 

Here’s his latest very informative posting. Notable quotes: “In the CEM universe it [the Fund] looks great, but in TUCS it's closer to the bottom 5%... TUCS [measures]  performance ranking and CEM [measures] cost ranking… If you don't survive short term, long term does not matter. “  Stay tuned.


(Note: There has also been no response from the RSG to my question about the cause(s) of the OIOS investigation of 15 Fund staff (paragraph 109 of UN report A/78/301) including, reportedly, senior investment officers, and the possible impact on staff morale and performance, in the past, currently, and in future.) 

______________________

 

By Ajit Singh, Former Chief Risk Officer, United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund UNJSPF)

9 January 2024.

 

Folks, here is the most recent TUCS report comparing the UN Pension Fund with a peer group of US Public Pension Funds over 5 billion as of third quarter 2023. For the 1 year, the Fund is slightly above the median, second quartile. However, for 3, 5 and 10 years, the Fund is solidly in the bottom 4th quartile, closer to bottom 5 percent. Outside of the UN, a chart like that would be a career ending event for the CIOs.

 

The Fund asserts that it compares very well with its peers. The Fund did not use TUCS; rather, it used CEM ranking. In the CEM universe it looks great, but in TUCS it's closer to the bottom 5%. 

 

The question then is: What is in the universe? I have had multiple meetings with TUCS, CEM and some of the largest custodians to find that out.  It’s good information to compare and contrast both. I have decided to present to my Board both TUCS and CEM rankings to make sure they are fully informed: TUCS for performance ranking and CEM for cost ranking.

 

Annual reports clearly show that the Fund has not made its real return objectives for over 15 years (3.43% for 10 years and 2.18% for 15 years, both below stated IPS objective of 3.5% real return). Recent multi-years subpar performance seems to have dominated excellent previous performance. 

 

The Fund is leaning on past excellent performance to assert that it’s meeting long term objectives. If the current trend of subpar performance continues, it will wipe out the old excellent performance. Not meeting a real return objective for 15 years should trigger multiple alarms. An urgent diagnostic is needed. Excellent funding ratio seems more an actuarial artifact than due to investment performance.

 

If you don't survive short term, long term does not matter. Fifteen years is too long to not meet the stated objectives and simultaneously claim that the Fund is the best performing fund! TUCS reports clearly show that is not the case.

 

The most important decision the Fund makes is asset allocation. The Risk group many years ago tested this. The group calculated with precision the impact of asset allocation on each quarter and even calculated the impact of delay in implementation of the asset allocation decision. Math for these calculations is well defined and the methodology was fully documented in the presentation. Perhaps, the Fund can repeat that exercise again to see if the asset allocation process is still effective.


 


TUCS vs CEM

 

Who is in the peer universe? The Fund does not tell us that. It does say:  “A peer group of 19 global funds with assets under management ranging from $48.3 to$127.8 billion, with a median size of $82.4 billion.” 

 

While I have no way to know who is in the peer universe, a brief search shows who is not. It only uses 19 funds with AUM from 48.3 to 127 billion. This means some of the very well managed funds like Texas Teachers, CalSTERS, CalPERS are not being compared with. 

 

This is not a true peer comparison as most of the best managed public pension funds have been excluded. The Fund should disclose who are these 19 funds it considers its peers.

Inclusion of foreign funds as peers can lead to false comparison: The site says “A global universe of 277 pension funds, with assets ranging from $0.1 to $1,740.3 billion, representing a total of USD $11.6 trillion. The median fund size is $8.6 billion”. Impressively big numbers. 

 

However, international plans are not true peers. The Fund’s base currency is USD. It prepares its financial statements in USD. International plans use different base currencies. Translating that into USD brings FX conversion risk. (On June 30th, EURUSD was1.1024. On Sep 30 EURUSD was 1.0615. A European plan with stronger performance in EUR will look weaker when base currency is changed to USD). 

 

Then there is the issue of home country bias which cannot be equalized. This makes asset allocation incompatible with the Fund. The Fund has not explained how it adjusts for these risks. The real peers of the Fund are US Public Pension Plans over 5 billion with USD as base currency. 

 

All US Public Pension plans invest globally, just like the Fund does. Moreover, a 5 billion plan can do everything a 50 billion plan can do. A 5 billion plan can invest globally, implement various investment strategies, access public and private asset classes. Any US Public Pension Plan over 5 billion should be compared with, hence the case for TUCS. If the Fund insists on being compared with foreign plans, it should report performance both in base currency and in USD.

 

TUCS universe data is reported by custodians, many of whom include TUCS in their reporting package. As part of the agreement, the Fund can opt-out or opt-in. The Fund had opted-in as it used to produce TUCS reports. Someone must have gone to the custodian and explicitly opted-out. This materially important decision must have a well-documented rationale. Did the Fund share such a significant decision with the Board or the IC (Investment Committee)?

·

TUCS has contractual relationships with the custodians. CEM data is self-reported and it does not have any such agreements in place. Most custodians automatically add a TUCS report as part of the reporting package (process differs from custodian to custodian-- some default to opt-in, some default to opt-out). 

 

As part of the agreement with the custodian, the Fund can opt-out or opt-in for TUCS reports. In contrast, CEM Universe comprises data from its self-reporting clients with whom it has consulting relationships. In addition, they send cold emails to non-clients to report their performance if they want. These emails are more likely to be ignored. 

 

Please see the table below attached showing the data from the largest 4 custodians in the US who report the data to TUCS. One can see that TUCS has well developed pipes with custodians and the data is reported with no intervention from the clients who opted-in. This makes TUCS data a lot more persistent as barriers to exit from TUCS are a lot higher than CEM.

 

TUCS universe is persistent, CEM may not be so much. TUCS universe data is reported from the custodians directly, not self-reported. Those who reported 5 years ago are still reporting. If one wants to get out, they need to call the custodian, modify the agreement to opt-out. In contrast, most CEM peers have a consultant relationship with CEM. These are the plans which hired CEM to do cost benchmarking. Most ignore their cold emails to report performance unless they have a client relationship with them. In addition, CEM has some external consultants who report their client’s data to CEM.

· 

Direct, contractual relationships with custodians are a big deal. It creates a wider universe, fewer dropouts and facilitates consistent reporting.

 

TUCS is well accepted in the pension industry and all publications which rank pension fund performance refer to TUCS. It’s the most sourced performance ranking universe.

 


 

Example of the cold email blast from CEM I get every quarter, emphasizing that CEM data is self-reported. It does not have independent pipes built with custodians. CEM is very good in what they do for cost benchmarking, but they are not known for performance benchmarking. I would certainly hire CEM to do cost benchmarking for the fund I manage, and I hope I come last. The biggest driver of higher cost are staff salaries, and here I do not want to win.

 

Folks, NYC Marathon ranks its participants based on when they crossed the finish line, not by how many calories they burned to finish.



 

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Second open letter to the Representative of the Secretary-General, UNJSPF: Questions on the UN Pension Fund's investment performance, transparency and sustainability, 8 November 2023


Dear Mr. Guazo, 

 

I wrote to you on 16 October 2023 posing several questions about reported underperformance of the UN Pension Fund’s investments; the lack of investment reporting in the 2022 annual report; the low quality of investment reporting on the Fund’s website; the cause(s) of a high increase in the Fund’s funding ratio; and reported OIOS investigations of 15 Fund staff. 

http://unpension.blogspot.com/2023/10/open-letter-to-pedro-guazo.html

There has been no response from you. However, there have been developments as follows: your office, OIM (Office of Investment Management) posted detailed investment reports on the Fund’s website; OIM posted a “Positive performance” report on 3 November 2023, that includes links to two comparison reports (2021 and  2022).

Each of these developments raises more questions:

 

New investment reporting on the Fund’s website

 

On 18 October 2023, two days after my letter to you, OIM posted 13 pages of investment reports on the Fund’s website. 

https://www.unjspf.org/the-fund/historical-fund-performance/

 

This is information that should have been included in the 56-page annual report for 2022, which contains only two paragraphs on investment performance, on page 25. 

 

Questions:

 

Why were these investment reports posted on the website on 18 October not included in the 2022 annual report?

 

Will these detailed reports be a consistent feature on the Fund’s website and in annual reports in future?

 

Positive Performance newsletter

 

On 3 November, OIM released a newsletter titled “Positive performance of the Fund’s investment management just reconfirmed that includes a comparative performance with similar funds.”

 

https://www.unjspf.org/newsroom/positive-performance-of-our-funds-investments-just-reconfirmed/?fbclid=IwAR0pg3_Se5qZ2BGJK0JZhrtFdOuXEgjwlU5g6rXOGSmQkktgBUjfvhx-aJI

In the newsletter, OIM paraphrases and links to a 2022 CEM Benchmarking report (quote): “Your 5-year net total return was 4.2%. This was above both the Global median of 3.3% and the peer median of 3.9%.”

https://www.unjspf.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/11/CEM-Investment-Benchmarking-Analysis-DY2022-UNJSPF-public-release-Updated.pdf

Yet, the recent ACABQ report, A/78/7/Add.7, 24 October 2023);  paragraph 10, does not quote the 2022 CEM report. Rather, it quotes the CEM 2021 report as follows:  “the five-year net total return of the Fund was 11.3 per cent, which was above the global median of 10.4 per cent and equal to the peer median of 11.3 per cent”. 

https://www.unjspf.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/11/CEM-Investment-Benchmarking-Analysis-DY2022-UNJSPF-public-release-Updated.pdf

Questions:

Why does the recently published ACABQ report include (more favorable) information from the 2021 CEM comparative report rather than the 2022 report? 

 

Why was information from the 2021 and/or 2022 CEM comparative analysis not included in the 2022 Annual Report?

Further on this topic, the ACABQ notes in paragraph 12 of its report that “information on comparison with peers was included in the report on the investments of the Pension Fund (A/78/329, annex II to annex X).” A/78/329 is actually the symbol of the 2023 Pension Board report, not the report on investments, which is A/C.5/77/2 dated 17 August 2022, in which I am unable to find any mention of a comparison report .

Questions: 

Why is there no information on a comparison report in the 2022 investment report? 

Will there be information on a comparison report in the 2024 investment report, since these are only published every two years? 

Comparison report

 

Recall that my previous letter to you raised questions about a TUCS (Trust Universe Comparison Service)  comparative report showing “the fund is solidly in the bottom 25% compared to its peers and for 2022 came dangerously close to being in the bottom 5%”.

 

That the CEMS Benchmarking studies you share in the newsletter present a rather more positive picture of the Fund’s performance vis à vis its peers does not, in my view, invalidate the TUCS report. The Fund simply chooses to use a different metric. I continue to be interested in knowing your views on the TUCS report.

 

Questions: 

 

How does  CEMS compare with TUCS? For example,  what are the differences in the size of the respective universe of participants, and the specific pension funds and their market values, included in or excluded from,  the respective comparisons?

 

Specifically, were Swiss pension funds included in the CEMS comparison? I understand (but have been unable to verify) that a comparative study of Swiss pension funds in 2022 placed the UNJSPF near the bottom percentile. 

Value added

Quote from 2021 CEM report:  “Your 5-year net value added was 0.0%. This was below both the Global median of 0.4% and the peer median of 0.6%.  (See paragraph 10 (b) of the ACABQ report).

Quote from 2022 CEM report: “Your 5-year net value added was 0.0%. This was below both the Global median of 0.6% and the peer median of 1.0%. 

I understand “value added” to mean “an  increase in returns due to managerial decisions”. 

 

Question: 

 

To what factors do you attribute the Fund’s low value added by managerial decisions to investment performance? 

 

Investment terminology

The 2022 CEM  report states:  “Your 5-year net total return was 4.2%. This was above both the Global median of 3.3% and the peer median of 3.9%.”

The OIM  “Positive performance” newsletter  states: “The 5-year net total nominal return of the portfolio was 4.2%, surpassing both the global median of 3.3% and the peer median of 3.9.”

I understand “nominal” when related to investments to mean before adjusting for taxes and inflation. 

Questions:

What does “nominal” mean in the above context? 

Why isn’t the Fund’s terminology consistent so that its stakeholders may easily understand meaning?

Funding ratio

Recall my question about the cause(s) of the increase from 86% to 117% in funding ratio from 2011 to 2021 (page 33 of the annual report). Paragraph 8 of the 2022 ACABQ report, A/77/7/Add.10, 28 October 2022, notes that it is reported that the funding ratio  “ improved from 107.1 per cent as at 31 December 2019 to 117.0 per cent as at 31 December 2021, “owing to the good performance of the Fund in 2020 and 2021.”  

Question: 

Besides “good performance” what are the other causes of the curiously high increase in funding ratio over the past 10 years? See list of possibilities in my previous letter.

OIOS investigations of Fund staff

 

There has been no response to my question about the cause(s) of the OIOS investigation of 15 Fund staff (paragraph 109 of UN report A/78/301) including, reportedly, senior investment officers, and the possible impact on staff morale and performance, in the past, currently, and in future. 

 

Question:

 

Is retaliation against whistleblowers a factor in these investigations?

 

What are you doing to ensure that staff members under investigation receive due process?  

 

Investment performance

Some additional thoughts on investment performance.

Given that ‘median’ means midpoint”, i.e., half of participants were below that number, and half were above, the CEM results and the OIM newsletter appear to characterize the Fund’s performance as a contented average-performing fish swimming languidly in an average-sized pond.

What about the possibility of billions of dollars left in the market were the Fund to increase its performance to more than above the median?

Indeed,  the General Assembly consistently urges the Fund to improve its investment performance. As a recent example,  in paragraph 10 of its 2022 report, A/77/7/Add.10, 28 October 2022, the ACABQ “ notes the investment performance of the Fund for 2021 and encourages the Fund to continue its efforts to improve the performance of its investments” -- and that’s before investment performance decreased for 2022

Fund members’ right to ask questions and receive answers

 

You are aware that Fund members are in fact the owners of the Fund, and that as a public pension fund, the  Fund is subject to transparency and other standards. Members have a right to ask questions. The Secretary-General is the Fund’s fiduciary. You, as his representative, have obligations to the Fund’s stakeholders, to respond to questions, including about the Fund’s performance and sustainability. 

 

Fund members  have a right to ask questions and receive answers particularly given the Fund’s history of managerial and governance shortcomings as documented in various audits, and as mentioned in my letter, including investment audit, A/75/215, July 2020,  that found deficiencies in investment governance mechanisms, a “toxic” staff/management culture, and stressed the need for a “culture transformation programme to cultivate a harmonious, high-performing and ethical culture in the Office.” 

To be fair, that audit  was  performed before you assumed the position of RSG. Still, I am not aware of any available information about steps taken by you to improve governance and change the culture described in the audit. 

There is mention in paragraph 55 of the recent ACABQ report, concerning the OIOS investigations of Fund staff,  of a “culture implementation plan” and positive “leadership culture assessment” surveys. Plans and surveys are precursors to steps to bring about organizational change, they are not the actual transformational actions. 

Question: 

What concrete steps have you taken to effect a positive change in organizational culture, including staff/management relations?

Mosaic Governance report

 

In 2020, in response to a request by the General Assembly (A/Res/74/263, para 8) for an independent governance review of the Fund,  Mosaic Governance Advisors present a 200 page report that found significant variances regarding all the governance issues it reviewed, including how Pension Board members understood their fiduciary responsibility. 

 

Question: 

 

Which of these recommendations, if any, have been implemented since 2020?

 

Why self-representation 

One might ask why, given that there are  purported retiree representatives to the Pension Board, I choose to exercise personal advocacy including in bringing my concerns directly to you. My experience over a number of years is that the retiree organization (FAFICS) assigned that task, is a solid  part of the problem of non-transparency surrounding the Fund, including the Pension Board’s recent “ethics” guidelines that  impose extreme confidentiality requirements on its members with the result of quashing dissenting voices among staff representatives on the Board.    

I continue to await a response to the questions in my letter of 16 October and the additional questions I have posed here.  Whether or not you choose to respond directly, my interest is primarily in results; and there appear to be some results.

 

I will, therefore,  continue to publicize my questions in the hope of engaging your  attention and that of decision-makers for the purpose of obtaining results related to these issues that impact the Fund’s health and sustainability.

 

 

Yours sincerely,

Loraine Rickard-Martin, Beneficiary, UNJSPF

Admin, UN Pension Blog

 

c.c. Catherine Pollard, Under-Secretary-General  for Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance

       Courtenay Rattray, Chef de Cabinet, Office of the Secretary-General

 

“UN Pension Blog is rated among the 20 best Pension blogs [2023] from thousands of blogs on the web and ranked by traffic, social media followers & freshness.” https://blog.feedspot.com/pension_blogs/

 

 

 

Monday, October 16, 2023

Open letter to Pedro Guazo, Representative of the Secretary-General, UN Pension Fund: Questions on the Fund's investment performance, transparency and sustainability, 16 October 2023

 Dear Mr. Guazo, 

 

A recent analysis of the Fund’s performance and transparency in reporting compared with its peers, using publicly available information, has raised several issues of concern to Fund members.  There are also questions of concern regarding reported investigations and related morale and stability among Fund staff.

 

The  main finding regarding the Fund’s  performance in comparison to peers,  according to TUCS (Trust Universe Comparison Service), is that “the fund is solidly in the bottom 25% compared to its peers and for 2022 came dangerously close to being in the bottom 5%” (see table).




 

 https://www.wilshire.com/solutions/analytics/peer-analysis

 

Ajit Singh, former Chief Risk Officer, United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund (UNJSPF),  described the methodology used for his analysis as follows:  Since the Fund does not provide annualized returns calculated for 3, 5 or 7 years, he “downloaded each year’s returns from 2013 to 2022 and [using the] GIPS approved geometric means approach, calculated 3, 5, 7 & 10 year returns and compared them to the TUCS universe of public pension plans over $5 billion, multi asset class and global footprint”. TUCS, he notes, “provides comprehensive information on the effects of risk, allocation and style and is widely used as a performance benchmark for US institutional assets."

 

He observes that for the ten-year period 2013 to 2022, starting with $44.6 billion and assuming no cash flow, a TUCS average peer performance of 8.15% annualized would have produced a market value of $97 billion instead of $80 billion produced by a below-average performance of 6.12%. Thus, the Fund's low performance "left about $17 billion in the market” that “could have meant substantially reduced contribution from employees", even arguing that with 117% overfunding the Fund does not need to take risks. 

 

He raises the following specific questions:  

 

Why does the Fund's 2022 annual report (page 6) provide information on 10 to 50 year returns and no information on 1,3,5,7 and 10 year annualized nominal returns, which he says is the industry standard and  “minimum for any pension fund report”? 

https://www.unjspf.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/Annual-Report-2022-final-version8.pdf

 

Why are the returns listed in a footnote as “real returns, not “nominal”, which he notes is “the industry standard for comparison”?

 

Why, where there is an asset management table (page 20), there is "no report of performance, long or short term, in comparison to peers, risk, tracking error, beta or omega"?

 

On page 24, why is “diversification” presented  in terms of geographical diversification instead of by correlation, tail correlations, marginal risk and other statistics?

 

On page 33, a chart shows that from 2011 to 2021 the Fund's funding ratio evolved from 86% to 117%. He notes that this is a 31% improvement that is surprising for a Fund which has been in the bottom 25% in terms of comparison with other public plans' investment performance for 10 years.

 

He asks what could be the possible causes for this “spectacular improvement” and whether a comparison of the 2011 and 2021 ALM (Assets and Liabilities Monitoring Committee) studies might point to such causes as:

 

Contributions from the UN increased a lot more than 23%

Early deaths (mortality rates used)

Quadrupling of salaries

Changes in accounting rules

Changes in methodology for smoothing amortization

 

Further, regarding transparency, he notes that it “took him some time to find yearly returns on the Fund's website” and compares investment reporting unfavorably with that of the Texas Teachers Fund, where the  annual report, page 118, includes a detailed and informative table. He suggests that the UNJSPF consult the website of peer public funds and use their reports as a guide for providing informative and transparent reports to its members.

https://www.trs.texas.gov/TRS%20Documents/acfr-2022.pdf?fbclid=IwAR2CMz8KWADjtrdj1LlwJjB4oXjR4akHjshnPonpwtLROivS-N9rwYCcOJc

 

He asks, given that the Fund “has access to the best experts globally and the IC [Investment Committee] is full of esteemed investment experts, [whether] the logical conclusion …is that the Fund is somehow not able to translate that wisdom into actionable implementation".

 

Finally, a question that's not directly related to the above analysis. Reportedly, several Fund staff, including senior investment officers, are under investigation by the UN's Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS). 


Paragraph 109 of UN report A/78/301, Activities of the OIOS, dated 9 August 2023, states: 

“During the reporting period, OIOS investigated multiple allegations implicating 15 staff members and 1 consultant related to the United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund, in possible prohibited conduct, unauthorized disclosure of confidential information, failure to cooperate with authorized investigations, negligence and insubordination.” 


What are the causes of these investigations? Are they related to the OIOS investment audit A/75/215 (21 July 2020) that found shortcomings and made recommendations to strengthen the independence, transparency and accountability of various investment governance arrangements, including the short and long term performance of the Representative of the Secretary-General (RSG), investment reporting, and the management of conflicts of interest? 


Are the investigations related to events last year, when the Secretary-General, the Fund’s fiduciary, in response to pushback by members, suspended the planned external management of an additional portion of the Fund's investments? 

https://www.passblue.com/2022/04/28/further-outsourcing-of-86-billion-un-pension-fund-is-paused-and-questions-arise-about-russian-investments/

 

The investment audit also found (page 93) “divisiveness among staff and a culture that many staff described as “toxic”.” Has this “toxic” staff/management culture changed under your tenure as RSG, and if so, how? 

 

The reported OIOS investigations raise questions about retaliation against whistleblowers as a possible factor. Large-scale investigations of Fund staff, including senior investment officers, whatever the cause(s), have surely contributed to low staff morale and instability. 

 

As a long-time Fund member deeply concerned about issues of transparency and sustainability, I would appreciate your responses to these observations and  questions, including any factors the performance analysis may have failed to take into account, and how instability and staff morale owing to reported investigations of senior investment staff of the Fund might already have impacted, and may further impact, investment performance and the Fund's sustainability. 

 

In view of the imminent meeting of the Administrative and Budgetary(ACABQ)/Fifth Committee of the United Nations General Assembly and its discussion of pension matters (9 November 2023), I would appreciate receiving your response as soon as possible.

 

Thank you for your attention.

 

Yours sincerely,

Loraine Rickard-Martin, Beneficiary, UNJSPF

Admin, UN Pension Blog

 

c.c. Catherine Pollard, Under-Secretary-General  for Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance

       Courtenay Rattray, Chef de Cabinet, Office of the Secretary-General

 

“UN Pension Blog is rated among the 20 best Pension blogs [2023] from thousands of blogs on the web and ranked by traffic, social media followers & freshness.” https://blog.feedspot.com/pension_blogs/

 

 

Thursday, September 15, 2022

The UN: Cracking down on whistleblowers again?

 




Last June,  the BBC aired a documentary on the plight of whistleblowers in the UN, titled “The Whistleblowers: Inside the UN”,  in which several former UN staff gave harrowing accounts of mistreatment after reporting on wrongdoing in the organization. https://www.bbcselect.com/watch/the-whistleblowers-inside-the-un/

 

Now the UN Administration appears to be at it again. Several senior staff of the UN Pension Fund’s Office of Investment Management (OIM) as well as a number of UN auditors were reportedly ordered in May to hand over their laptops and cellphones to the UN's internal oversight office (OIOS).

 

And last month,  the UN Administration reportedly asked, in writing, a former staff member/ staff representative  of  the Fund to comment on a complaint of defamation and harassment filed by former Pension Fund Chief Executive Officer,  Sergio Arvizu, against seven UN staff representatives. The complaint  relates to alleged events prior to Arvizu’s separation with a disability award from the UN in January 2019. Similar requests for comment are likely to be issued to other former and current staff representatives cited in the complaint.

 

The question of motive


OIM staff and auditors


It’s apparent that the investigation of OIM staff and auditors relates to the investment governance audit conducted in 2020 (A/75/215, 21 July 2020) that  found serious governance shortcomings, including divisiveness and a toxic culture among staff; a concentration of power that fostered perceived or actual conflicts of interest; a lack of detailed disclosure and recusal procedures; and procurement irregularities involving “Entity A”  that  may be hired as an external manager for part of the Fund’s Fixed Income portfolio.  Former head of investments, Sudhir Rajkumar left the UN three months prior to publication of the audit for “personal and family reasons”.  

 

The  investigation of OIM staff likely also relates to the recent heated controversy involving a decision by the current head of OIM, Pedro Guazo, to outsource a significant portion of the Fund’s fixed income investments.The decision was met with a petition by staff to Secretary-General Guterres who placed the decision on hold. A downsized outsourcing plan followed, which still amounts to about $5billion being outsourced.  

https://www.passblue.com/2022/04/28/further-outsourcing-of-86-billion-un-pension-fund-is-paused-and-questions-arise-about-russian-investments/

Staff representatives

The reason for the “assessment” underway of UN staff representatives is a UN Administration decision not to investigate Arvizu’s  complaint filed in July 2019. The decision cited, correctly, the latitude, in comments and statements, afforded staff representatives and the requirement that the Administration refrain from interfering in their activities (UN Dispute Tribunal (UNDT) judgment 2020/211, December 2020).

But on 18 March 2022, the UN Appeals Tribunal rescinded the UNDT’s judgment and remanded back to the Administration to assess Arvizu’s complaint holding that it had failed to lawfully exercise its discretionary authority “by balancing … conflicting interests and freedoms…”(UNAT judgment 1231).   

An avoidable travesty

A key question is why the Administration, which made the right decision the first time around not to investigate the staff representatives, cited staff prerogatives only. A travesty could have been curtailed had the Administration presented even part  of the backstory in its response. Perhaps the Administration preferred to keep the lid on that can of worms?

 

The Administration could have cited an array of audits that found managerial deficiencies under Arvizu’s tenure, among them unprecedented and protracted delays in benefit processing;  findings that relate to conflicts of interest; and procurement irregularities  (2017/002; 2017/104; 2017/110; A/73/341). 

 

There are also related GA advisory body (ACABQ) reports, press releases containing statements of Member States (https://press.un.org/en/2017/gaab4261.doc.htm) and a series of General Assembly resolutions calling for reforms to address management and governance deficiencies reported in the audits.

 

Arvizu reportedly went on leave in August 2017 soon after he was informed of Guterres’ decision, on the recommendation of the Pension Board, to renew his contract for three instead of five years. Shortly thereafter he went on sick leave until January 2019 when he was separated from the UN with a disability award. Since then,  he has filed a string of compensation claims with the UN internal justice system (UNDT/2020/205; UNDT/2020/208; and the claim in question, 2022-UNAT-1231. (UNDT/UNAT judgments are publicly available).  

 

A series of ironies


It's noteworthy and ironic that the governance audit (A/73/341, paragraph 78) stated that the UN Ethics Office established that retaliation occurred in three cases of staff of the Fund Secretariat under Arvizu's tenure. 


It's particularly ironic that one of the staff, who is among the seven staff representatives that Arvizu cites in his complaint, recently won her case at the UNDT and was awarded two years' net salary -- a costly payout by the UN for managerial wrongdoing (2022-UNAT-1207). The UN Administration decided nine months after Arvizu's separation that it was not going to pursue the three established retaliation cases. 

  

Most ironic would be if the UN Administration follows through on punishing OIM staff and auditors acting on principle, or if it reverses its decision not to carry out an investigation of UN staff representatives who were dispatching their responsibilities to their constituents in safeguarding the Fund.

 

It’s not surprising that these actions by the UN Administration are aimed at staff representatives and auditors connected to the Fund.  The Fund management and Pension Board routinely call foul on the staff representatives to the Pension Board, and UN auditors, related to audits of activities on the administrative and investments sides of the Fund, and slow-walk reforms. 

 

In 2018, in response to the governance audit, the Pension board reported the internal auditors to the UN’s Independent Audit Advisory Committee (IAAC), apparently for unprofessionalism. That body found no justification for the complaint. 

https://www.passblue.com/2018/08/27/the-un-pension-fund-board-rejects-an-audit-of-its-work/https://www.passblue.com/2020/11/12/the-75-billion-un-pension-fund-kicking-reforms-down-the-road/

It’s also noteworthy that Internal audits consistently call out deficiencies in values of integrity and ethics, and the lack of an appropriate “tone at the top” on both sides of the Fund (governance audit, Rec. 10, A/73/341, para. 78; investment governance audit, A/75/215, para. 93). 

It’s important too to note that the above events are happening in the context of growing secrecy and authoritarianism surrounding the Fund, and against the backdrop of a long history of unfair treatment of whistleblowers in the UN as the BBC documentary demonstrates.


In response to the BBC documentary, Transparency International points to "a long line of individuals who have complained of suffering retaliation for reporting abuses of power or malpractice at UN agencies" and again urges Secretary-General Guterres "to immediately order an independent inquiry and use his power to remedy the harm caused to UN staff who have already suffered for trying to do the right thing." https://www.transparency.org/en/press/un-whistleblower-exposé-independent-inquiry-urgent-reforms


The question on many minds is will Guterres heed the call or will the UN leadership continue to crack down on dedicated UN staff with the courage to do the right thing?