Sunday, May 22, 2016

Response to AFICS President and Governing Board's 'Update on Recent Issues', 22 May 2016

Posted today on the FB page of 'Former and Current UN staff': 

Since both Loraine and I are referenced in the AFICS Board Update (see below), we prepared the following response for your consideration:
Response to AFICS Board Update on Recent Issues Dated 19 May 2016
It hardly behooves us to respond to the accusations contained in the AFICS Board Statement distributed at the recent AFICS Annual Meeting, circulated by email to AFICS members, and posted on the AFICS website; but the statement contains so many factual inaccuracies and misstatements of past events that we would be remiss if we let stand such efforts at misdirection.
We two members of AFICS who have signed this statement below stand accused of having proposed amendments to the AFICS By-Laws and Rules of Procedure, as if these were writ in stone, immutable and unchangeable however much external circumstances have changed since the By-Laws were written in the 1950’s. There are a number of threats to our Pension savings that have emerged since 2006 and which continue today. Moreover, according to Article VIII of the existing By-Laws, they may be amended “On the proposal of the Governing Board or at the written request of at least fifty members of the Association (emphasis added) [and] … by the Assembly by a vote of two thirds of the members present and voting…” after 30 days of notice has been given to all members.

We are accused of a “persistent campaign of criticism” against the Governing Board because they would not support the claim made by 13,000 current and former staff across the UN system, that the CEO of the Pension Fund through an MOU was attempting to breach the strict separation between the investment and administration sides of the Fund.
But, they give us far too much credit, because this campaign was started, not by us, but by the Staff Unions in New York and Geneva and by CCISUA in 2014. AFICS did not take the lead on this issue, and resolutely denied the existence of any problem with the MOU. The Board now claims that it never “supported a merger between the two sides of the Pension Fund,” but the President’s letter of 12 May 2015 would certainly stand as proof that she put up a fairly spirited defense of the proposed MOU when she said, inter alia, “The revised MoU does not propose changes to the two-part structure of the Fund, make it possible for the CEO to influence, let alone take over, the investments side, bypass UN and UNJSPF rules and regulations, nor does it advance “plans to invest in hedge funds” (a reference presumably to the role of the RSG) or weaken existing controls and balances as purported in the petition.” Among all the staff representative bodies in the UN system, there were none that supported the AFICS position in this regard. In the end the UN Administration saw the merits of the arguments made by the Staff Unions and Associations and rejected moving forward on the proposed MOU. We leave it up to you to decide whose position was justified by events.
Regarding the request for an extraordinary meeting in early June 2015, we now have the laughable claim that such a petition never existed, when we have extensive notes on our meeting with the Board to discuss the petition and the requested meeting. As we wrote at the time “Concerning the request dated 12 June 2015, of 82 AFICS members under the By-Laws for a meeting on pension matters, we find it disturbing that following more than three months of correspondence containing a series of excuses, you now resort to a perverse interpretation of the AFICS By-Laws to justify non-compliance with it’s provisions. Since the Board includes several members with legal training and experience, it is indeed bizarre that the plain meaning of the Statute’s language has been so blatantly misused and contorted to satisfy yet a new excuse for not holding the requested General Meeting. Even someone at high school level could figure out that nothing in the By-Laws requires “individually signed requests.” It is clear that the Board never intended to comply with the request of 82 dues paying members for an extraordinary assembly because it didn’t serve its purposes. The provisions of Article IV (3) do not give the Board veto power over the request of members for an extraordinary Assembly.
But the actions of the Board in this regard, and on other matters of vital interest to the members of AFICS, point to the urgent need for amendment of the By-Laws. The Board has become a law unto itself, determining which provisions of the by-laws need to be observed and which don’t. There is very little turnover in Board membership where the committee nominating candidates for election is appointed by the Board itself; so the same people perpetuate themselves in office, year after year with very little injection of new ideas and new approaches.
Over the years, the Board has come to take a very patronizing view of the membership. We get reports once a year on issues that have been discussed at meetings during the past year, but we never see any policy papers or positions in advance describing how the Board proposes to represent us on issues in the coming year. AFICS policy can’t be based on who was the last person you spoke with before going into a meeting in Geneva. The Board is very resistant to new forms of communication. The current website, located in the far reaches, of the UN website gets little traffic. There is no reason AFICS should not have its own Facebook page for members. AFICS is an NGO. It should act like one.
We are also accused of sending petitions to the Secretary-General asking that the CEO of the Pension Fund step down. This is absolutely false. That petition was started and circulated by the CCISUA leadership in Geneva. We had nothing to do with the initiation of that petition.
There is nothing radical in the proposals for amending the by-laws, but it is possible that any change would make some Board members nervous. The basic point is to re-order the priorities of AFICS to make it more oriented to the needs of the membership. We are sure that the UN has sufficient resources to “promote the purposes, principles and programmes of the United Nations system,” and that need not be our primary purpose.
Members pay dues to support AFICS and presumably would like to see something in return. Moreover, changing the by-laws to make the Association more open, transparent and democratic does not imply taking an adversarial position, but giving the membership a bigger role in how decisions are made and how positions on different issues are taken. And certainly, no one can question the importance of dialogue with the administration, but also with the existing staff representative bodies in the UN system that have common interests with retirees.
We should be aware that membership in AFICS is decreasing, not increasing. Without making AFICS more vital to the interests of its members, aside from cruises, lunches and dinners, membership decline will continue. Despite the criticism directed at us, we have managed to stimulate increased discussion and participation by retirees on issues, before decisions were taken that could adversely affect their interests. We believe that the broadest active participation of all members serves our collective best interests, even if the Board does not seem to share this belief.
Lowell Flanders     Loraine Rickard-Martin


The following is a statement circulated by the AFICS Board at the meeting of 19 May 2016, posted on the AFICS website, and circulated to AFICS members by email:
Update on Recent Issues 
19 May 2016
Many of you recently received a communication from two AFICS/NY members consisting of a cover note and attaching the authors’ proposed amendments to the Association’s By-Laws and Rules of Procedure.
Since early last year, these members have been waging a persistent campaign of criticism against the Governing Board of AFICS/NY. It began when the AFICS/NY Board, elected democratically by the entire membership, disagreed with the accusations made by the New York staff association that the Chief Executive Officer of the United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund was attempting to breach (also termed merge in the cover note) the separation between the Fund’s investment and operational functions. That allegation, as well as the claim that plans supposedly existed for an imminent substantial shift of Pension Fund assets into hedge funds were repeatedly addressed and expressly denied by authoritative UN officials, including the Secretary-General’s Chef de Cabinet, the Under-Secretary-General for Management and the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Resources Management. However, these categorical denials have not stopped the authors of the cover note from refusing to accept the facts presented to them and they continue their assault on the UN Pension Fund and AFICS/NY.
The Governing Board of AFICS/NY continues to reject allegations that the Association ever supported a merger between the two sides of the Pension Fund or failed to take a strong position against investment in hedge funds. Already back on 9 October 2014, AFICS/NY wrote to the newly-appointed Representative of the Secretary- General for Investments to caution against alternative investments and private equity in particular. On 28 October 2014, it invited the RSG to its monthly Governing Board meeting so they could meet her and express to her in person the views put forward in the letter. There is not a single shred of evidence to support the unfounded claims made in the cover note about AFIC/NY.
AFICS/NY has protected the legitimate interests of the retiree community successfully over its 46 years of existence and continues to do so either directly, or through the Federation of Associations of Former International Civil Servants (FAFICS). The Governing Board is very well equipped for its task, composed of retirees elected by the membership precisely because of their experience and expertise in pension, health insurance and other matters of interest and concern to retirees. Elections have always been held in conformity with the Association’s By-Laws and Rules of Procedure; the process is properly conducted, open and transparent. The Board is certainly not “somnolent”, but hard-working, vigilant and diligent, volunteering its time and know-how to ensuring and protecting the safety of retiree pensions and health insurance. That is the very raison d’etre for AFICS/NY, why it exists.
The Association is actively seized with maintaining its long-held position to ensure a continuing conservative and safe investment policy in pensions, resist any increase in alternative investments and more recently, address the delays in the payment of pension benefits and the reimbursement of Medicare B contributions to ASHI subscribers. Over the past year, through AFICS/NY members acting as FAFICS representatives on the Pension Board’s Assets and Liabilities Monitoring Committee, the Association has played a decisive role in sounding the alarm over the current staffing issues that we feared might be weakening risk control in the Investment Management Division of the Pension Fund and bringing them to the attention of the Secretary-General. AFICS/NY retirees were informed of this position by email on 13 April and through the posting of all relevant correspondence with the Secretary-General on its website. We note that the cover note makes no mention of the key role played by the Association in this matter.
On all of the above matters and others, it is a matter of record that AFICS/NY has been consistent and persistent in bringing retiree concerns to the attention of the responsible officials and contributing to the search for solutions.
It does so in a non-confrontational manner, keeping the lines of communication open and maintaining an atmosphere of civility and dignity to achieve results. This approach is amply documented in its messages to the membership and postings on the AFICS/NY website. AFICS/NY refrains from insults, recrimination and personal attacks.
Since the cover note even now mentions a “petition” for an urgent extraordinary meeting of the AFICS/NY Assembly which it alleges was “dumped in the rubbish bin by the AFICS leadership”, we believe that facts are needed to set the record straight. FACTS: (1) a petition duly signed by fifty members as required by the By-Laws did not exist; (2) the request to hold the meeting before the Pension Board meeting in early July 2015 arrived on 5 June 2015, one day after last year’s Annual Assembly during which participants had just heard presentations by and had questioned a range of senior UN officials such as the USG for Management, the ASG for OHRM, the CEO and the RSG for the investments of the Pension Fund and senior officials responsible for ASHI, a meeting that had taken months to organize; (3) it was clearly impossible to again immediately organize a meeting of the necessary scope and magnitude, ensure the presence of relevant senior officials and the membership at large on the very heels of the recent Assembly and in the time-frame proposed; (4) the leadership of AFICS/NY instead initiated a meeting on 17 June 2015 with the three individuals (two of whom are authors of the cover note) calling for the meeting and discussed with them the need for and goal of the meeting which was followed up on 23 June 2015 by a letter to them from the Governing Board; (5) the rationale for the meeting kept shifting; it was first stated by them as a need to address “gaps in their knowledge”, but it only later transpired that all along the intent, not revealed to the AFICS/NY leadership, had been to gather support for a letter they were writing to the Pension J3oard. In July 2015, they sent that letter, critical of AFICS/NY, to the Pension Board which ignored it; the. Pension Board interacts only with its recognized interlocutors. They later sent two petitions to the Secretary- General calling for the CEO of the Pension Fund to step down and which they strongly encouraged staff and retirees to sign.
The cover note and above background make clear that the real aim of the proponents to amend the By-Laws would be to change radically the very nature of the Association, lessening fellowship and social interaction and turning the Association into an aggressive lobbying group or trade union, always ready to adopt an adversarial attitude. The AfICS/NY rejects such an approach. While quick to react to any real issue that might be harmful to the collective interest of its members, AFICS/NY serves as a two-way, mutually beneficial link between the retiree community and the UN system. On the one hand, it assists its members in a variety of matters by maintaining healthy and constructive connections and good will in the relevant units of the UN. On the other, it harnesses the experience and energy of the retiree community in support of the Organization and its purposes. Precisely because of its long-established relationships with a wide range of UN officials it is able to assist the hundreds of members who phone or come to its office with their individual concerns. While AFICS/NY is under no illusion that the pension arrangements are working perfectly at the moment, it is, however, equally convinced that the best way to address the issues is to dialogue with the UNJSPF and the UN administration as to measures to improve client service.
Lastly, although this is not the time to comment specifically on the proposed amendments to the By-Laws as any changes or amendments would have to be considered in accordance with the detailed provisions of the By-Laws, we would advise caution. Though some would have others believe that the Association’s approach to effect change and improvement are ineffective and wrong, that they alone know the score and the way to take action, AFICS/NY has been highly successful with its approach. This is proven by the overwhelmingly positive feedback it receives from the membership. AFICS/NY is not change averse and its Governing Board welcomes constructive criticism and dialogue, but it will continue to reject agitation based on false premises.
We urge you to continue supporting AFICS/NY because its nature and purpose remain valid. Attempts to turn the Association into something it was never meant to be only threatens to weaken its ability to ensure that the interests of its members are safeguarded, particularly in the key areas of pensions and after-service health insurance.
President, on behalf of the AFICS/NY Governing Board

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