We can’t assume money from prescribed assets will be wasted, says former Post Office CEO Mark Barnes

Investors concerned about government interference in their pension funds miss the point that their investments are under threat from the economic downturn that would result from failures of state-owned enterprises, former CEO of the SA Post Office Mark Barnes said on Wednesday.

Speaking in a debate on Business Day TV on the controversial proposal to force pension funds to invest in state-owned enterprises or government bonds, Barnes said an assumption cannot be made that the proceeds from prescription would be wasted.

“There is no question in my mind that prescribed assets is not the panacea to solve state-owned enterprises,” Barnes said, adding that investors had to consider the future of the economy and support investment in basic infrastructure.

“You wouldn’t resort to something like prescribed assets unless it had a need to fill. It’s an instrument, potentially of its time for a time,” Barnes said.

“It could be a very necessary element of a broader solution,” he said. “If you pay tax you already invest in parastatals, whether you like it or not, so we are already in prescribed assets.” 

The government proposal to prescribe assets has raised concerns that employees will resign to preserve their pensions, while the DA has warned that pensioners face destitution.

The DA has said that if the government proceeds with the policy, it will propose legislation that would allow individuals to withdraw their pensions without having to resign, amid fears that asset prescription would prompt some to quit their jobs to access their pension funds.

Futuregrowth CEO Andrew Canter said such a policy would inevitably result in lower savings by SA citizens, adding that there is already plenty of money available, if the government gets its house in order.

“Pension funds themselves are already huge investors in national infrastructure. It’s estimated that 25% of domestic pension funds, not counting the Government Employees Pension Fund, are in government bonds, state-owned enterprise bonds or other tangible developmental investments,” Canter said.

“There is no lack of willingness to do more. What we need is the government to do its job properly,” he said.

“There is no example in the world of a government that prescribed how pension funds should be invested that turned out to be a success,” said Canter. “The ones that were terrible, Ghana, Nigeria, Egypt and a couple others across Africa, were disastrous. Argentina nationalised its pension funds in 2009, Argentina subsequently had to go to the IMF because it destroyed its savings culture.”

“Please, show me where government is efficient at being a capital allocator,” Canter said.

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Source: businesslive.co.za