Pension Funds Adjudicator, Muvhango Lukhaimane.
Twenty years after its establishment, the Office of the Pension Funds Adjudicator (OPFA) continues to uphold its mission to resolve complaints of retirement fund members and their beneficiaries in order to uphold the integrity of the pension fund industry.
Commenting on the release of the 2017/2018 annual report, Pension Funds Adjudicator, Muvhango Lukhaimane said a record 9, 794 complaints were received in the last financial year, due largely to increased awareness of the OPFA.
Of this, 4, 405 complaints were determined, 2, 571 were found to be out of out of jurisdiction, 1, 462 were settled, with the rest of the 367 being closed for various other reasons.
“As we look forward to the next 20 years, the OPFA is poised to join the new ombud schemes dispensation – the Ombud Council – with much vigour in the knowledge that stakeholders, especially fund members, stand to be the biggest winners in a more integrated and streamlined financial services complaints’ management landscape,” Ms Lukhaimane said.
Two decades ago, on January 1, 1998, then Minister of Finance, Trevor Manuel appointed Professor John Murphy as the first Pension Funds Adjudicator.
It was a momentous occasion aimed at affording ordinary pension fund members the opportunity to be heard in a forum that would issue binding determinations without the formality and cost of traditional legal processes.
Since then, the OPFA has contributed to the development of retirement fund policy, legislative and regulatory amendments whilst ensuring much needed access to alternative dispute resolution in a complex area of law.
Ms Lukhaimane said 2017/18 was by far been the most challenging since her appointment as PFA. The number of justiciable complaints increased by over 30 percent.
“In resolving the complaints, it was imperative to maintain our turnaround times without compromising the quality of our output. Staff had to work together in order to streamline processes and share information speedily,” she explained.
She said the majority of complaints pointed to weak governance within funds and administrators.
Fund members are forced to approach the OPFA on a myriad issues that should be attended to by funds in the ordinary course of business, the most frequent being non-payment or late payment of contributions by employers and non-payment of benefits by funds and administrators.
“The office did its best to finalise complaints expeditiously, despite the fact that the funds that generate the largest number of complaints take on average 90 days to file responses with the OPFA instead of the 30-day period. This means stretched human resources are expected to send multiple reminders to funds to file responses on matters that are mostly straightforward,” Ms Lukhaimane reported.
She added the high number of complaints that are determined remained a matter of concern.
“In some instances, intransigence from funds/administrators to provide information to complainants is inexplicable and totally unnecessary. In this regard, the OPFA has resorted to escalating these issues to Board Chairpersons and Principal Officers of funds,” she concluded.