NSSF seeks to hold on to fund management in liberalised sector
Posted Tuesday, March 5 2013 at 02:00
The liberalisation of the pension sector will open up space for new players, a situation that is likely to test NSSF’s competitiveness.
As the liberalisation of the pensions sector takes shape, the National Social Security Fund wants to maintain the role of fund management.
This would be contrary to the Uganda Retirement Benefits Regulatory Authority Act which requires that the service be outsourced. The Act which was enacted last year requires all retirement benefits schemes to outsource administration, trustee, custodian services and fund management services to ensure efficiency and transparency.
In an interview, Mr Richard Byarugaba, the NSSF managing director, said since 80 per cent of the funds’ investment portfolio is in fixed income (TBills, TBonds and fixed deposits), it would not be necessary to outsource the service yet the fund can manage it efficiently. “Outsourcing fund management will increase operational costs yet there might not be any value addition because we can handle it internally,” said Mr Byarugaba.
A fund manager is responsible for implementing an entity’s investing strategy as well as managing its trading portfolio. For their work, fund managers are paid a fee, which is a percentage of the fund’s average assets under management.
Mr Byarugaba said: “13 per cent of our portfolio is in real estate yet very few fund managers can run the real estate portfolio which involves constructing and selling of houses.”
However, Mr Andrew Kasirye, the URBRA chairman maintains all players will have no choice but to comply with the law under a liberalised space.
He says: “The law does not allow a pension scheme provider to perform all the functions such as administration, fund management or play the custodian or trustee role at the same time.
“This means that NSSF will have to outsource some of these functions unless the law is amended to allow them to do all that.”
Mr Kasirye adds that the separation of roles is not only good for corporate governance but will also increase transparency in the management of contributors’ return on investment as well as guarding against fraud and abuse.
He says as the regulator, URBRA will not only license sector players but will also ensure that charges for services offered are reasonable and within acceptable parameters. “I understand NSSF’s fears but as a regulatory authority, we will regulate all players including fund managers, so there shouldn’t be any fears of being overcharged for any services,” he said.
URBRA has also issued regulations to govern the operations of pension schemes and the authority is currently working on investment guidelines which must be followed by all schemes, according to Mr Kasirye.
The investment guidelines restrict schemes from investing savers’ money in any speculative investment and no schemes will be allowed to invest contributors’ money with a bank, non-bank financial institution, insurance company or any other institution with a view of securing loans or mortgages at preferential interest rates.
For instance NSSF which has a drawn out investment guideline is being accused of investing savers’ cash in certain projects that have caused loses to the Fund. For instance the Fund is accused of investing in the Nsimbe estate projects, which was never completed as well as buying the Temangalo land that has since not been developed.
Allegations of impropriety
Although NSSF is said to have invested over Shs8 billion in the Nsimbe Housing project, allegations of impropriety in handling the project were made and the project was suspended on the recommendation of the Inspector General of Government. NSSF has never recovered that money to date.
The above are among a litany of bad investment decisions that the Fund is accused of taking without proper authorisation. However, Mr Byarugaba said the delay in the development of these properties has been due to procurement challenges. However, he added that consultants have been appointed, a master plan drawn and the procurement process will soon start to kick start the development of these projects off the ground. Because of the restriction by the current law, NSSF has limited investment options, which, according to Mr Byarugaba must be diversified to create more investment vehicles.
Recently Mr Kasirye told this newspaper that the regulatory authority plans to put emphasis on the construction of mini hydro-power dams, roads, hospitals and bonds as key investment vehicles to widen the investment portfolio for retirement benefits schemes and deepen the financial sector.
The above investment vehicles, he said, would offer higher returns compared to real estate and the narrow equities market in the country.
He said: “The real estate industry has in the past attracted a lot of investments and may not be the best vehicle to invest savers’ money going forward as it may soon experience a bubble,” he said before adding that stocks are so volatile to have them as the main investment vehicle for contributors’ money.