Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Message to AFICS President and Governing Board: Please honor your statutes! (7 July 2015)

7 July 2015

Letter to the NY/AFICS President and Governing Board

Subject: Pension Fund matters: Request for extraordinary meeting under AFICS By-laws

Dear Linda,

We refer to your letter of 2 July 2015 that responds to the request of 82 AFICS members for an extraordinary meeting under the AFICS By-Laws.  In your response to that request, you state that “the By-Laws do not impose a specific time-frame in this regard.” It should be self-evident that a meeting delayed is in fact a meeting denied. It is therefore clear that the AFICS/NY leadership is in violation of the statutes of the Association.  As you are well aware, the statute does not require that the reason for holding an extraordinary meeting be specified. It only states that a meeting shall be convened when requested by at least 50 of its members. 

Simply put, this represents a failure on the part of the AFICS leadership to meet its responsibilities to the AFICS membership. And, despite your claim to represent that membership, it is a membership that you, regrettably, have never consulted regarding their views on this critically important issue.

Sadly, this development belies your assertion that “as a Governing Board elected by the membership we take our responsibilities very seriously.” It would appear more an indication of a lack of accountability and a lack of transparency, particularly as it relates to the manner in which the AFICS leadership has dealt with pension fund issues since the controversy erupted more than a year ago. The reactive approach and the glaring inconsistencies in its series of pronouncements from May 2014 to the present have done little to inspire the type of confidence in the leadership that AFICS members rightfully expect.  

As evidence of its reactive stance on the issue, AFICS/NY’s only information note to its constituents on the matter dated 29 May 2014, came only in response to the UNOG petition addressed to the Secretary-General in May 2014. Up to that point AFICS/NY had been silent on an issue of great importance to its constituents, and continued to be silent until after the 31 March 2015 general meeting of the Staff Union on pension matters.

Contrary to your statement that “as far back as May 2014, AFICS/NY had sought reliable information on the matter of pensions and consistently communicated it via email and our website”, the reality is that up to 8 April 2015, the AFICS website contained only four communications relevant to the Pension Fund controversy: your 29 May 2014 update, and three messages from the Pension Fund CEO on “allegations against the UN Pension Fund” dated 1, 5, and 8 April 2015.

You are well aware that after the 31 March 2015 Staff Union meeting on Pension matters, AFICS members requested the President and Governing Board to provide more balanced and complete information.  It was only then that the AFICS leadership moved to request a Town Hall meeting and began to update the information presented on its website.

In this connection, we note that our requests (which we are now repeating) for posting of our communications with the AFICS leadership on the AFICS website in the interest of transparency, have so far been ignored, with the exception of our 18 May 2015 letter. The result is that those members who rely on the AFICS website for information, are being treated to a one-sided perspective, constituting incomplete and potentially misleading information.

Your message of 29 May 2014 states that “AFICS/NY would not presume to suggest to its members how they should react to any statement, petition or letter … circulated to them”.  However, this is precisely what the AFICS/NY leadership did in its 12 May 2015 letter to AFICS members, which advised members who inquired about signing the (8 May 2015) petition not to do so, and that “it would be inappropriate for AFICS/NY to participate in a campaign which distorts reality.”

In yet another demonstration of how you do indeed “presume to suggest to members how they should react to any statement”, AFICS members are being taken to task in several of your communications, including in the current letter, for not accepting assurances from UN senior officials whom you claim have “made clear and detailed presentations and gave precise replies to all questions.”

On the one hand, you state that “AFICS/NY has always acted in accordance with its obligation to protect the interests of the entire retiree community”.   Yet, on the other hand, you continue to disparage Member concerns regarding media reports on the Fund’s intent to increase the size of the portfolio in alternative investments, after you informed us at the meeting on 17 June 2015 of the deliberate leak of this information to the press by the Representative of the Secretary-General for Investments, and subsequent retraction (of which we have no confirmation).

We were informed at the same meeting that the “key worrying element” in the draft MOU, allowing the CEO authority over staff in the Investment Management Division, had been removed in an updated version.  Yet we are informed by a reliable source, who has seen the latest draft that that “key worrying element” is very much present in the new draft.

Inconsistencies in your position over the past year, and the resulting unease among AFICS members about threats to the system of checks and balances in the Fund, are  hardly reassuring for AFICS members – particularly after having read in a communication from the Staff Union President dated 11 April 2015, and circulated to all UN staff and AFICS members, of your observation to the CCISUA representative during the Pension Board meeting in Rome in 2014 that “whatever he [the CEO] was proposing [in the MOU] was the best for the Fund.”

It is also not in the least reassuring that the AFICS leadership, as you state in your current letter, seeks to “maintain a consistent position that opposes any increase in the current conservative level of investments in hedge funds” while at the same time purporting to see no danger in repeated media reports of such a trend.

It is further disquieting that the AFICS leadership claims to “maintain a consistent position that opposes . . . any changes that would undermine the structure of the Fund, including any administrative arrangements that would affect either of these two fundamental principles”, while asserting that such an element no longer exists in the draft MOU, only to later discover the opposite.  

Moreover, it does appear rather disingenuous for the AFICS leadership to state that it is “convinced that differences of opinion on HR procedures, including the MOU, are for the parties directly concerned, not retirees, to resolve” while having made a clear connection between administrative flexibility, staff rights and security, and the “distortions in investment policy” in your 29 May 2014 note as follows:

“While AFICS/NY recognizes that some measure of delegation of authority, and administrative flexibility, is necessary for the operations of the Pension Fund, this should be framed in a system of checks and balances that safeguards both the independence of the Fund and the rights of its staff.  The independence of the Investment Management Division should be maintained. There should be no structural changes that could make its staff feel insecure and possibly lead to distortions in the investment policy.”

Indeed as retirees, we all have the same goal of ensuring that a healthy and viable UN Joint Staff Pension Fund continues to be maintained.  It is for this reason, that it is vitally important that the views expressed by the leadership of AFICS on this issue in any forum be truly representative of the interests and concerns of its members at large, and that this be achieved through real and meaningful consultations with the membership.

In view of the obvious conflicts between reassurances being offered and the information being obtained by the members at large from other reliable sources, we hereby reiterate our request for an AFICS general meeting prior to the Pension Board meeting in July 2015.


Curling, Lowell, Loraine

Curling Smith
Lowell Flanders
Loraine Rickard-Martin

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