Nepotism rife within VNPF
Damaging media reports into alleged mismanagement practices within the Vanuatu National Provident Fund (VNPF) by Anniva Tarilongi’s management is allegedly deeper than previously thought with more revelations that nepotism and politics are taking a foothold on the people’s only retirement scheme.
This modus operandi seems to be having a hand in major management decisions—whether it is recruitment procedures, tendering processes or salary increments for certain members of staff and the managerial team.
There are clear evidences of nepotism by the management in the recruitment procedures—favouring either one particular province, namely Penama; former staff of Telecom Vanuatu Limited— where the General Manager was formerly employed; or applicants simply have to have some connections with the Prime Minister personally or his People’s Progressive Party (PPP).
For example, the new head of VNPF’s corporate Services Ms Nadia Kanegai, is an executive member of the PPP, holding the position within the party as treasurer.
VNPF Staff Code of Conduct purposely prohibits staff from taking part in political activities because of the experiences of the past that led to the January 12, 1998 VNPF riots. That code of conduct was basically shunted aside in the appointment of Kanegai, not to mention her Penama connections.
Kanegai recently took a one-week leavein order to attend the PPP congress in Mele where she presented the party’s treasury report. She had not even served one year with the Fund in accordance with the Employment Act following her appointment to warrant her the right to take leave at the time.
Tarilongi had a major say in Kanegai’s recruitment, immediately after her appointment last year. But it would seem former Board members, Cherol Ala—whose term ended last week and Keith Hango (deceased) who incidentally was Tarilongi’s cousin, influenced the decision to appoint the GM.
Information surfaced this week that Kanegai had also applied for the post of General Manager, together with Tarilongi. And when the job was awarded to Tarilongi, Kanegai’s appointment became unavoidable in order to not only appease her but also to reward a‘Wantok’ for not getting the top job.
It does not end there. Most of the new recruitments made under Tarilongi have the same imprints as she spearheaded what some have described as a “head-hunting” recruitment process.
The process is simple: firstly have somebody in mind, advertise the post to fulfil legal requirements—supposedly to give others a ‘fair chance’, and then hand-pick the person they have in mind.
The recruitment of Manager Human Resource is one such example. The incumbent, Madeline Sewere, is apparently the sister of Prime Minister Sato Kilman who before her appointment was back in Malekula—jobless.
In addition, the recruitment of the Fund’s current Risk Officer smacks of the same dodgy recruitment procedure. According to media investigations, while the interview panel recommended a different candidate, the job was given instead to a Dalcy Temakon, another former employee of Telecom Vanuatu Ltd.
According to what the media have been shown, two further recruitments for positions in the Members Financial Services Ltd (MFSL), a subsidiary investment arm of the Fund, are from Penama. One, Sterlin Tari, is a cousin to the General Manager while the other is George Wilbur, a former staff of the Westpac Bank.
Not only that, prior to Tarilongi’s appointment, the job of Secretary to the General Manager was being handled byVNPF staffer Linda Gibson. The job is now handed to one Anna Tapasongi, yet another recruit poached from Telecom.
In the meantime Linges Jones, a regular VNPF staff now on study leave at USP in Fiji, was sent purposely to study for the job by the former management. It has emerged she will have no position under the current structure upon her return. Further reports alleged she has lost all her study leave entitlementsat the instigation of the new management, even though the Fund had approved her study and entitlements in the first place.
If the VNPF has one of the most expensive handymen in Pakoa Williams, who according to recent media reports was earning over Vt100,000 a month, then imagine the type of salaries directors, managers and most of the new recruits are paid.
Mr Williams is reportedlycurrently on “leave” despite being under VNPF’s employment for only a matter of months because of the intensity of the media spotlight shone on his fat salary bill.
His income by comparison is way above that of a compliance officer, which simply defies all basic reasoning and is difficult to fathom. He is another former Telecom employee.
Meanwhile all VNPF top brass’ salaries are way beyond what was being paid former General Manager, Caleb Sandy, who in his final years at the Fund, was on an annual salary of approximately Vt5 million.
It has been revealed the annual salaries of the three directors sit within the range of Vt6.2 and Vt6.3 million while the managers’ annual salaries are in the region of Vt2.7 million. Under the new structure, eight managerial positions were created. They alone would be costing the Fund almost Vt20 million in annual salaries.
There are reports of low staff morale because of the huge salary gap separating management’s top executives from the general staff.
The situation is not helped when most of the 70-plus staff are in the dark about the Fund’s new salary structure, after the structure came into place since the arrival of the new general manager.
The icing must be this. Tarilongi’s own annual salary shot up overnight with a Vt2 million increment, which means she is now on an annual salary of Vt9 million. Such an increase is for someone who came in barely a year ago with her salary originally marked off at Vt7 million, plus benefits.
Further examples abound of bad management practices and shoddy decisions that could land the organisation in deep financial difficulty if the organisation is allowed to continue on the path it is taking.
And according to the fund’s 2011 annual report, the Vt156 million deficit in the general reserve reflects the impact of poor management decisions undertaken under Tarilongi.
For instance, without properly assessing the status of the Fund, the Board proceeded to approve an increase in interest rates to be credited to members from 4.5% to 5.25%.
As the Fund struggles to keep up with its bloated overheads, funds have had to be diverted from elsewhere to meet the high interests credited to members’ accounts— creating the unusually high deficit.
Only a year before, this deficit was at Vt27 million. Some insiders believe if the Fund were to have a repeat of the 1998 events, there would not be enough funds to payout all 51, 326 members.
Meanwhile, it has been revealed the accounting systems and procedures set in place by the saviour of the Fund, Sri Lankan Ragit Kanagasabai, who was brought in after the riots to revive the Fund, is in the process of being flushed down the loo by the new management.
For instance, a computer software called Maximise System, introduced under Kanagasabai to handle the Funds accounting system has been replaced by one used by Telecom called Sun System. The duplicate, notwithstanding its high costs in licensing fees means staff have had to undergo further training in order to use it effectively.
Interestingly Maximise was already handling most of the Fund’s accounts, catering for members’ modules, the fund’s financial module and the investment module. In other wordsthere was no need for a new accounting system or the existing one could have been easily updated to cater for current requirements.
But the management had other ideas. It would seem the new GM was not all too familiar with Maximise so instead of teaching herself how to use it (which would have been cheaper and cost effective) she went for the most expensive option: install a completely new system and train everyone on how to use it because it is what she and her former Telecom colleagues were more familiar with.
The high costs borne was money spent that was not necessary, according to insiders.
Apparently two Telecom staff were hired in their private capacities to install and train staff on the new systems.
There is still more to come from this story and will cover some of the tendering processes and staff concerns over the scraping of their entitlements.