Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Pension Fund - Lack of common sense solutions cause delays in paying new retirees, August 14, 2016

Post on Former and Current UN Staff Facebook Page, by Michelle Rockcliffe, August 14, 2016

UNSPC (UN Staff Pension Committee)

Each biennium the United Nations pays the Pension Fund more than $20 million as the Fund is also the local secretariat for the UN Family (Secretariat, Funds and Programs). The CEO of the Fund is also the Secretary of the UN Staff Pension Committee responsible for a reported 86,000+ participants of the UN.
Published financial statements show that the Fund did not use its entire budget, with savings and had an average of 15 to 20 vacancies at any given time for many years. Both the ACABQ and BOA have highlighted the vacancies..

Yet we find ourselves at a juncture where thousands of former participants and their dependents or survivors have waited or are still waiting months or years or to receive benefits from the Fund, some even dying in the process of waiting.

The UNSPC which is responsible for 86,000 participants from the UN, meets just twice per year to mainly to review disability cases. Other matters of importance e.g. appeals of operational decisions are heard once per year by the Standing Committee during the Board session, in direct violation of the regulation, and when there are too many other matters on the table to ensure that committee members give cases due process and the attention they deserve. Additionally the UNSPC does not appear to have been aware of the backlog situation until it was brought to light by the president of the UN Staff Union.

As the local secretariat, the Pension Fund is responsible for the administration of participant records and accounts and as a priority ensures that participants’ records are complete and in line with the Regulations and Rules of the Fund. This means that the Fund as secretariat is responsible for

a) reviewing personnel action forms to determine eligibility for participation in the Fund and assigning of pension numbers.
b) recording demographic and employment updates throughout service ( both through interfaces or manual input)
c) verifying contributions and reporting on exceptions via the participant reconciliation exception (PRE) report 
d) ensuring the completeness of the record upon the separation of a participant
e) following-up missing documentation with the UN organization or participant as necessary.
f) advising UN Family participants of their rights and responsibilities in the same way as other secretaries of UN Agencies Staff Pension Committees such as ILO, FAO, WHO etc.

Thus far the CEO has laid the blame for delays squarely on shoulders of the organizations, which for some unexplainable reason seem to be taking it all without resistance. Perhaps these offices are unaware of the role of the Pension Fund or that the UN has been paying the UNJSPF close to $11 million dollars per year for the purpose of keeping its participants’ records straight, recognizing the high mobility of staff in other UN offices and therefore keeping this task centralized as it has been from the inception. 
[This is not to say that there are no delays caused by the organizations. The UN definitely needs to streamline the separation process and simply de-link submission of the Separation Notification from the lengthy exit process, (the one that checks if a participant did not return a key in 1995 or a library book in 2000)]

We as investors and beneficiaries of the Fund might want to know:
1) Where is the accountability for the money the UN pays the Fund to do local Pension Secretariat duties? Could the backlog have been mitigated by filling vacancies?
2) Does a gentle apology (or two) from the Fund really suffice for the loss of homes, insecurity, inability to purchase medicine and even the loss of life in some cases, experienced by former participants and survivors?
3) Why the delay in applying common sense solutions to manage cyclical surges caused by downsizing of missions and based on lessons learned over years?
4) Is the reason that management has taken this long to admit the problem due to a lack of integrity?
5) Was there a lack of vision? Only in response to crisis, has management made mention of immediate review of documentation to expedite the process. Why the delay in applying common sense solutions?
6) Have the UNSPC members we as participants elected to this Committee (and who represent us on the Pension Board) done anything to help? Or are they complicit in this lack of accountability? For whom are these participant representatives really advocating? 

With all the promises made over the last 4 months, the UN Family really have yet to see a major improvement. The backlog was definitely not removed in May and still not in July (and this is without taking into account participants separating since February)

The number of former participants and survivor cases outstanding remains at a very high level, but it’s summer –a time when many staff take well a deserved vacation each year- Did anyone see that coming so as to prevent another “surge” this coming September?

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