Home » General » Can Pensioners Have Confidence in Ipec?

In announcing the Government decision to set up a Commission of Inquiry to investigate whether pensioners were entitled correct benefits from pension and insurance contracts, Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa declared in July 2014 that no parties with vested interests would be appointed as part of the final body of commissioners to drive the inquiry.

Further the minister also promised all stakeholders that the terms of reference to be used by the commission would be agreed by all stakeholders. There is no doubt the intention of these declarations was to guarantee the independence and impartiality of this commission.

To date however, apart from public concerns about unjustified long delays in setting this commission of inquiry, there are now public concerns about the impartiality and independence of this pending commission.

In its favour, the Finance Ministry reveals that interviews for shortlisted stakeholder proposed commissioners will commence within days. The Finance Ministry has however not fully answered several questions about the entire process of setting the commission, not least why the terms of reference to be used by the commission have not been agreed upon by all stakeholders, and how the commissioners were shortlisted.

A handbook on truth seeking recommends legitimacy as essential for a truth commission to be successful, and independence of the commission in all respects (operational, financial, political, etc) being of utmost importance in order for this legitimacy to be realised.

The latter independence can therefore be guaranteed if certain fundamentals are in place not least a transparent process for the appointment of commissioners financial, administrative, and operational autonomy, legal guarantees that commissioners can only be removed for a just cause, among other fundamentals.

Operational autonomy in particular requires commissioners to have the authority to interpret their written mandate, establish priorities and methods for their inquiry, and make staffing decisions. It recommends that Government institutions avoid interpreting the mandate of a commission or hiring staff in anticipation of commissioners’ decision, or manipulate the Terms of Reference away from the key public questions to be investigated.

The transparent commissioner appointment process requires selection through a transparent and preferably consultative appointment process, with input from different sectors of society, especially from victims and other marginalised groups. Selection committees should consider selection criteria including commission size, fair representation, neutrality, gender, full-time commitment, expertise, among others.

Typically, the selection process must start with nominations from the public and the formation of a panel to review nominations. Interview finalists, must undergo public scrutiny, with recommendations of a shortlist of candidates to an independent appointing authority.

In accordance with this handbook, commissioners are typically selected in two ways exclusively based on their personal qualifications, moral leadership, and prestige andor as representatives, at least symbolically, of certain constituencies, such as women, races, ethnicities, or religious groups.

The first appointment approach is fast and may transfer the legitimacy and prestige of the individual to the commission. However, this must be balanced against the risk of appearing elitist, resulting in distrust and resentment.

The process of selecting commissioners for South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, for instance, formed in 1995 to record and acknowledge crimes motivated by political aims of protecting apartheid or fighting to abolish it, is described as ” . . . the first to design a process based on an independent selection panel and public interviews of finalists. The empowering legislation indicated only that the commissioners should be ‘fit and proper persons who are impartial and who do not have a high political profile.'”

A selection panel, including representatives of human rights organisations, called for nominations from the public. It received three hundred nominations, which it then trimmed to fifty people for interviews, which took place in public session and were closely followed by the press. It then forwarded a list of twenty-five to President Nelson Mandela for the final appointment of seventeen. To provide geographic and political balance, Mandela included two members who did not go through the full screening process.”

Now inquiries with the Finance Ministry office responsible for pension and insurance service provision aised pensioner groups that all stakeholder proposals or contributions to the final ToR were passed on to IPEC for preparation of the ToR to be used by the commissioners. IPEC would then submit the ToR back to the ministry for onward dissemination to other stakeholders. The pensioner groups have to date not received this ToR.

In these circumstances, pensioner groups are (justifiably) concerned that IPEC, in its current form and structure, has to date not been able to provide a solution to the stand-off (many years after it became apparent), and has evidently worked against pensioners and other subscribers, this in an apparent dereliction of its mandate as provided for in the three main Acts of Parliament guiding pension and insurance service provision in Zimbabwe.

In a meeting called by the Honourable Finance Minister to announce the Government decision to set up the commission, pensioner groups were surprised when the IPEC representative introduced the Zimbabwe Association of Pension Funds (ZAPF), the Life office Association and other organisations representing service provider institutions, declaring openly that pensioner groups in attendance were not part of IPEC constituency.

Indeed it is apparent that IPEC will not invite pensioner groups to forums set to discuss matters affecting benefits from pension and insurance arrangements. It is clear that IPEC’s interests, in this current form and structure, are directly conflicted to those of pensioners and other subscribers to pensions and insurance services. Pensioner groups are again justifiably concerned that any finalisation of the ToR by IPEC, without any wide public consultation may lead to inappropriate guidance of the commissioners. Further pensioner groups are justifiably concerned that IPEC may be involved in the selection and interviewing of the commissioners, in which case the commissioners may be compromisedbiased.

Indeed pensioner groups have received reports from their concerned proposed commissioners that they have been inappropriately contacted with offers to settle past disputes favourably, and persuading them not to partake as commissioners.

This truth commission on pension and insurance benefits must avoid being subjected to allegations of bias, as this will negatively impact its effectiveness and render it unlikely to successfully address the causes of the conflict under inquiry.

It is aisable for the ministry to note that in many parts of the world, civil society has a deep-rooted distrust of official inquiries because of a government history of using them to minimise or dismiss allegations of serious abuse. People with questionable or dubious links to the subject matter under inquiry, such as at IPEC should therefore not form part of a commission.

Source : The Herald