On Friday Prime Minister Dean Barrow was in Belize City meeting behind closed doors with employees of Belize Water Services Limited at their offices on Central American Boulevard. It was occasioned by reports that amendments to three acts governing pensions in Belize – the Trusts Act, The Pension Act and Belize Pension Regulations would allow the Government future use of monies for Government workers under existing pension schemes to be secured in the National Bank. On Thursday there was a similar meeting at BTL’s St. Thomas Street offices to assure that the workers need not fear losing their pensions. He explained the matter to us.
Hon. Dean Oliver Barrow- Prime Minister
“No, no. What happened was that I had a call or a message from one of the Union Heads. They met on Wednesday and I thought I had sorted out the issue. She certainly pronounced herself satisfied and said that her colleagues were after all, were also satisfied. I received a call yesterday that with respect to BTL. The misunderstanding, the confusion had reasoned to such heights that it had triggered a panic and that almost 70% of the participants of the scheme were saying, we no dih wait fuh Government fuh pass any legis’, we waah withdraw now…in that kind of a context which basically would have caused the scheme to collapse, when there was no need, I felt that simply by sending a note saying that government will exempt that scheme would not be enough”.
The Prime Minister says he cannot see how the matter would be misunderstood and took the time to explain what the revisions to the legislation really meant.
“It says absolutely no such thing. What it does is to provide for a Supervisor of Pensions; and as with anything else, if it is clear to the Supervisor of Pensions that the operators of the Pension Scheme are behaving in a manner that’s fraudulent, that would deprive the contributors to the Scheme of their benefits, then, the supervisors would be able to act, which is par for the course when you think about regulating an industry or a sector for the benefit of consumers. That is what it does. When you through it, you will see that, that’s a form of protection and it offers there, many other layers of protection, so that, for example, those in Pension Schemes would be free from having the assets that they are entitled to, under the Scheme, attached to any court if there’s a judgement against them. Their benefits would be exempt from…they’re made immune from court attachments. So, the whole idea was to regulate because it appears that the insurance companies are now stepping up their marketing or Pension Schemes as part of the Menu of their products”.
The Prime Minister said he had no wish to mess with existing well-run schemes.
Prime Minister Dean Barrow
“Give what has happened with CLICO and the need to protect anybody who participates in any kind of insurance scheme, we felt that there was a need to think about regulation. You will see that the draft provides for exemption of existing schemes. In any case, certainly the three utilities got sight of the draft which is not surprising because the drafts are being circulated to various stakeholders. In fact, BEL was invited expressly to one of the meetings. But I do believe that there is a misunderstanding of the provisions of the drafting. But it doesn’t matter; if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. These pre-existing pension schemes run internally here at BWS, ant BEL and at BTL. Don’t need to be touched as far as I am concerned. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
Meetings with Belize Electricity Limited (BEL) employees took place Fridayafternoon. According to the Prime Minister the bills are still only in draft stage and have not even been seen by Cabinet. Late this evening, the Government Press Office released a statement further clarifying the bill. The release affirms “The drafting of the Bill is not yet complete and it is anticipated that further consultations with the industry will be held prior to submission to Cabinet; and the Hon. Minister of Finance has agreed with the Belize Water Services Pension Plan owners, the Belize Electricity Ltd. Pension Plan owners, and the Belize Telemedia Pension Plan(s) owners, that all their Pension Plans will be exempted from any Act or Regulations in this regard.” According to the release, the Bill does not require that any pension funds or pension investments be under the control of the Government nor does it require that pension funds be invested in any Government securities, nor does the Bill propose to change or modify any existing private pension funds. Government asserts that “The Bill also does not in any way affect the Government Pension nor the Belize Social Security Board Pensions.