"It was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped." Hubert Humphrey (1911-1978).
A number of cases reviewed through the first session of the UN Appeals Tribunal in Geneva (15 March – 1 April 2010) showed lack of coordination between the United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund (UNJSPF) and the participating employing organizations and also the total callous attitude of both groups toward the pensioners and survivors.
I am talking about the inordinate delay in paying the benefit to a survivor after the death of the pensioner. Many of the UN Pensioners Associations have been voicing concern about the unfortunate continuing hardship of the survivors, though the number of cases and duration of the delay were reduced to some extent. This is the state of affairs after 60+ years of UN operation probably with "zero" lessons learned in these years.
The reasons given for such delays are lack of documents in the pensioners' files at the UNJSPF, such as marriage certificate, birth details of the spouse, proof of continuity of marriage, etc.
It is a standard management practice in the UN system that documents are to be submitted and verified at the time of entrance or admission in the pension fund. The HR of the employing organization has the responsibility to provide the pension fund, at the time of admission of the member in the fund, all the details and copies of supporting documents. HR of the employing organization also has the responsibility to ascertain any changes in the status of the staff member-participants during and throughout the employment tenure and to ensure that the pension fund is notified correctly.
The fact that this responsibility, is being carried out without error and/or delay cannot be guaranteed, is just another example of how the organization relates to the staff member while expecting total loyalty from the staff member. Is it a difficult responsibility? No, and yet things are allowed to go berserk thanks to the "take it easy" policy!
Experience of a developing country Pension System:
I presently live and come from a country of 1+ billion people, described until recently as the largest chaotic democratic developing country now being graduated into a large again chaotic "emerging" economy. This is not just one country; it comprises of a federal government plus 26+ provincial governments (many of them larger than most of the most developed western nations), with real literacy level just about 50 per cent and a civil service pensioners population running into several millions. Yet the systems at the federal level and at the state levels seem to be functioning rather effectively and responsibly. The Civil Service Pension schemes both at the central level and at state levels make sure that every single pensioner and beneficiary is made aware of his/her rights, and always reach out to pay the benefits.
State of Affairs at the UNJSPF:
Compare the above situation with that of the UN Pension Fund, supposedly equipped with the most modern and sophisticated systems to boot, but cannot fulfill its relationship commitment to something of the 50K+ pensioners and beneficiaries! What does it say? Inter alia, the following:
- Simply there are systemic solvable problems that have been left to fester over the years, because of:
- Lack of concern for fellow beings, who are the pensioners or surviving beneficiaries after the death of the pensioners
- Lack of dedication to the values enshrined in the UN Charter and the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights
- Lack of commitment, a kind of don't care approach, because none of these shortcomings can be questioned in any national court of law and can be easily explained away without any accountability.
- The solutions to such problems are indeed simple and straight forward and it should be very possible for the UN Pension Fund with Assets Value exceeding USD 40 billion, with the top-notch communication facilities available at its disposal, and its annual revenue equaling or exceeding the amount of pension disbursements.
- Is it difficult for the UNJSPF to communicate with the pensioners or beneficiaries seeking information and validation on any information that may be found missing in the file? How much extra cost this is going to incur? The cost should be very minimal, except the cost of their unwillingness to provide this social security that is bound to cost much more, and becomes a heavy burden to be borne by the beneficiary!
- Nobody sees these behaviours as human rights violation. The UN General Assembly and its various advisory bodies act just as "rubber stamps" to whatever they have been provided in six different languages to "read" and throw into the dust bins.
Are these problems solvable?
Yes! These solutions are new discoveries, but well-tried and found to be working in a developing country, like India, with a large civil service and a conscientious judicial system that is ready to render timely social justice. Here are few examples of what the system does here:
- The Indian civil service pension office does not accept pension documents if they are inadequate or incomplete, and place the onus on the employing ministry or department to complete the documentation within a stipulated time frame.
- The civil servant or the prospective pensioner is informed through inter-office communication system. This makes the civil servant concerned to become active in ensuring that his/her pension participation papers are properly filed, reviewed and accepted by the Pension Office.
- Once the pension participation has been accepted, it is only necessary to deal with the Pension Office to ensure everything goes alright. One can follow up any issues based issue on the information included in the annual pension statements issued to the participants.
- Delinquent pension contributions by the employers become public knowledge and invites scrutiny.
- The Indian civil service pension is answerable to the judiciary in case of complaints; and judgements are enforceable, with feedback to the court of justice.
- Based on the pension cases reviewed by the court, it is clear the burden of proof, in most cases, for any mistakes is held at the Pension Office, rather than the ageing and surviving beneficiary (e.g. spouse) whose documentation was already accepted.
It is time that the UN Joint Staff Pension Fund, well resourced, appreciates and understands its role and responsibility to remain the model Pension Fund of the world. It becomes the genuine tool to translate what the UN said in many of its landmark decisions and resolutions over the years – UN Charter, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, UN Resolutions/Conventions on ageing population, UN Secretary-Generals often repeated statements praising the contribution of former staff members and how their collective knowledge and wisdom should be harnessed for the benefit of current and future generations.
V.Muthuswami, Chennai, India
Joint Appellant of the Common Cause Appeal # UNAT 2009-001.
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