Cablegate: Enactment of New Pension Act

Published: Thu 30 Sep 2004 06:28 PM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
301828Z Sep 04
E.O. 12958: NA
1. (U) Summary. Nigeria's National Assembly has
enacted a new Pension Reform Act that establishes a
uniform contributory pension scheme for public and
private sector employees. The new law confers pension
management responsibilities on professional pension
fund administrators, who will maintain retirement
savings accounts in behalf of public and private sector
employees. A National Pension Commission will regulate
and supervise the activities of the administrators and
custodians of pension fund assets. The new scheme is
expected to be fully funded, privately managed, and
strictly regulated. End summary.
2. (U) Under the new scheme, both employers and
employees will be required to contribute a minimum of
seven and a half percent of an employee's monthly
earnings to a retirement account. Employers will have
the option of bearing the full burden of the scheme.
Every employee subject to the act's provisions will be
required to maintain an account with a Pension Fund
Administrator of his or her choice. Employers will
have to deduct their employees' contributions at source
and remit them within seven days to a Pension Asset
Custodian designated by the employees' Pension Fund
Administrator. The accumulated funds from employees'
retirement savings accounts will be drawn down in two
phases at maturity. First, employees, upon retiring,
will collect lump sum cash payments that will be not
less than fifty percent of their current annual
remuneration. Second, the other half of the funds in
the retirement savings accounts will be invested in
annuities designed to provide pension benefits to
retired employees for the remainder of their lives.
3. (U) Only limited liability companies that will have
accrued minimum paid-up share capital of N150 million
(USD 1.15 million at the current exchange rate) will
qualify to manage pension funds. Fund administrators
will operate retirement savings accounts in behalf of
employees and will invest the latter's funds in various
assets through PACs. The administrators will maintain
account books of transactions and will provide relevant
information to the National Pension Commission. The
PFAs will compute and pay retirement benefits in line
with the law regulating the pension scheme.
4. The responsibility for safekeeping pension funds
will lie with licensed financial institutions that will
be required by law to hold pension funds and assets in
trust. Companies having a minimum net worth of five
billion naira (USD 38.5 million) will manage the PACs.
The former will be required to have cumulative balance
sheet assets of one hundred and twenty five billion
naira (USD 960 million) or be owned by licensed
financial institutions with the same balance sheet
position. (Comment. The one hundred and twenty five
billion naira requirement may be unrealistic. The
National Pension Commission has said it will review the
new law and recommend amendments. End comment.) Pension
fund custodians will invest in behalf of PFAs. They
will be required to provide data and other information
relating to their operations and dealings with funds
administrators to a National Pension Commission.
5. (U) The Pension Act establishes a National Pension
Commission whose principal objective will be to
regulate, supervise and otherwise ensure the effective
administration of pensions in Nigeria. The full-time
officers and staff of the Commission will comprise a
non-executive chairman, an executive director general,
four commissioners, and other officials representing
each of the six geo-political zones of Nigeria. The
appointments of the principals will be subject to
senate confirmation. The head of the Civil Service and
one representative of the Central Bank of Nigeria, the
Finance Ministry, the Nigeria Labor Congress, the
Nigerian Union of Pensioners, the Nigeria Employers
Consultative Association, and of the Securities and
Exchange Commission will also be on the board of the
6. (U) The new pension act clarifies the statutory
responsibilities of the Nigerian Social Insurance Trust
Fund (NSITF). While NSITF will continue to provide
social security insurance services, it will also serve
as a pension funds administrator. NSITF will guarantee
minimum pension benefits as determined by the pension
commission, and will credit all existing contributions
plus attributable income less amounts required to
guarantee minimum pensions to employees' retirement
savings accounts. However, NSITF will transfer all the
funds and assets it holds and manages to pension fund
custodians as soon as the pension scheme is
established. Five years after its establishment,
employees will be free to transfer their NSITF
entitlements to any PFA of their choice.
7. (U) The pension act makes transitional provisions
for private sector organizations with existing pension
schemes, which by law must participate in this new
scheme. Private sector organizations that have defined
contribution schemes will be required to re-compute
their employees' contributions and to credit them to
retirement savings accounts to be opened for employees.
Such pension funds and assets will have to be
segregated from the funds and assets of that these
private sector organizations accumulated before the
enactment of the new pension scheme. (The old pension
scheme, also established by legislation, was non-
contributory for the public sector. Benefits were
defined and linked to final salary. The scheme failed
because it was only partially funded or in most cases
not funded at all. Until the new pension act was
passed, pension schemes in the private sector were
voluntary and governed by trust deeds. The schemes
were contributory, insured, self administered, and
generally successful.)
8. (U) All government ministries and departments will
establish pension fund offices. These offices will
issue government bonds to cover the entitlements to
pensions existing before the new scheme takes effect.
The bonds will be redeemed upon the retirement of
employee contributors who will then have an option to
buy annuities.
9. (U) On July 15, 2004, the Nigeria Labor Congress
(NLC) organized an interactive forum to examine both
the nature of what will be the contributory pension
scheme and the mechanism and institutions established
by law to administer the scheme. The participants
perceived inadequacies and ambiguities, and called on
both the Presidency and the National Assembly to
address them. The NLC fears that the new act
inadequately addresses existing pension liabilities.
The NLC said this situation informed its call for
pension reform scheme that might clear the backlog of
pension arrears. The NLC is urging the GON to
appropriate funds from federal revenue (especially from
crude oil sales) to clear these liabilities.
10. (U) The NLC also questions the constitutionality of
the new pension act. It argues that the National
Assembly has no constitutional mandate to legislate
pension schemes for the private sector, and has
threatened to contest the legality of this new act. The
NLC is also urging the Government of Nigeria to review
the composition of the National Pension Commission to
ensure adequate and equitable stakeholder
11. (U) Many banks are positioning themselves to
benefit from the new pension scheme. Some banks have
begun to form asset management companies or departments
preparatory to being licensed as pension fund
administrators (PFA). Notable among them are the
Investment Banking And Trust Company (IBTC), the United
Bank for Africa (UBA), First Bank, and NAL Bank. Some
of these bank were managing contributory pension funds
for the private sector before the new act became law,
and expect to become PFAs for such companies once the
banks become duly licensed. Some of these banks are
also preparing to be licensed as pension fund
custodians (PFC). The law stipulates that PFAs cannot
transact business with affiliated PFCs, however.
12. (U) Many financial operators consider the scheme
overdue, given its potential as a major source of long-
term funds. At present, the primary source of liquid
assets of the financial sector, particularly the
banking sub-sector, is predominantly short-term funds
from the public sector. Bank dependence on such funds
has always been cited as a reason for the low volume of
credit extended to the real sector of the economy, and
usually at high interest rates. Sola David-Borha, an
executive director of the Investment Banking and Trust
Company, told us in early August that the dearth of
long-term funds has grossly undermined the investment
potential of Nigerian banks. She said the pool of funds
to be generated through the pension scheme will give
banks greater latitude to invest in productive
ventures. The availability of these long-term funds
will ensure cheaper funds for the investing public as
well, she said.
13. (U) The cost of short-term public funds, which
often exceeds 15 percent per annum, has usually been
the banking sector's excuse for charging high interest
rates on loans. Now, as a result of the new pension
act, it is expected that pension funds will pool
billions of naira within the first five years of the
law's implementation. This will make it possible for
banks and their customers to secure easier access to
funds for working capital, mortgages, etc. at longer
maturities and possibly lower cost.
14. (U) While concerns have been expressed about what
return will accrue to contributors of funds to be
invested by banks and managed by the pension fund
custodians, Bayo Yusuf, the senior manager of the
pensions department of United Bank for Africa (UBA),
told us that contributors to the pension schemes will
receive the prevailing market interest rate. The law
expressly states, "No PFA should give its contributors
less than 200 basis points below prevailing market
interest rate". Contributors will thus receive some
return on their "investment" at maturity. (Comment.
The question is, what will be the prevailing market
rate? Is it to be treasury bill rate by itself or plus
so many bonus points? Is the prevailing market rate to
be indexed to inflation? Since the Government has
sometimes sold treasury bills at a discount to offset
the differential between the rate of t-bills at par and
inflation, contributors to the schemes might receive
little or no return on their investment were
contributors to be paid a rate of return that is no
less than 200 basis points below the prevailing market
rate, as indicated above. End comment.)
15. (U) Yusuf believes that the possibility of banks'
obtaining PFA licenses will help some banks to meet the
July 2004 directive that they increase their capital
base from N2 billion (USD 15.4 million) to N25 billion
(USD 192.3 million) by December 31, 2005. The Act
requires that PFAs have a N150 million capital base
(USD 1.2 million), but most banks already have over
N500 million (USD 3.9 million). Yusuf believes that
should mergers or acquisitions not be feasible for
banks to meet the new capital base requirement, some
may opt to become PFAs, action that could improve the
quality of funds administration in Nigeria.
16. (U) The law allows companies like Shell Oil and
Cadbury that have existing pension funds of over N500
million to set up their own PFAs. Thus the focus of
some PFAs will likely be on small and medium
enterprises (five employees and above) that accumulate
a smaller volume of pension funds, Yusuf said. Such a
development could encourage positive banking habits and
also help ensure future income for workers who until
now have not contributed to pension programs.
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