HON. PM VOREQE BAINIMARAMA’S SPEECH AT THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATIONS OF THE FIJI NATIONAL PROVIDENT FUND (FNPF)

The Honourable Attorney-General and Minister for Economy,
Honourable Cabinet Ministers,
Your Excellencies, Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
The Chairman and Board members of the FNPF,
Representatives of superannuation funds from across the region,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

This is a great day in the life of our nation – the 50th anniversary of the Fiji National Provident Fund and a commemoration of its half a century of service to the Fijian people.

It is a golden moment in every way. The golden anniversary of our national superannuation scheme. An occasion to celebrate its exceptional contribution to our national life. And most of all, to give thanks for the way in which the FNPF has guaranteed the future of millions of Fijian employees over the past five decades. Giving them security, stability and peace of mind throughout their working lives. And in their retirement, the means to develop other opportunities or simply kick back and enjoy their twilight years.

Tonight, we remember with gratitude those who set up the FNPF in 1966 – the men and women who had witnessed the success of Singapore’s compulsory national superannuation scheme in guaranteeing the futures of Singaporean workers and were determined to replicate that success in Fiji.

Before the Fund was established, only civil servants and those working for the biggest companies received any form of superannuation. And we pay tribute to the wisdom and foresight of the FNPF’s founders. Because, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is truly a Fijian success story and a source of great national pride.

The FNPF has evolved over the years into one of our nation’s most important institutions. Not only crucial in securing the future of ordinary Fijians but as a central pillar of our economy and the prosperity on which every citizen depends.

It is the leading player in our financial system, has given our nation a crucial asset base and is a critical partner with Government as we set out to steadily transform Fiji from a developing country into a modern nation-state.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, the current performance of the FNPF is all in the figures and what a golden set of numbers they are.

• An overall asset portfolio of 5.13 billion dollars, equivalent to around 54 per cent of nominal Gross Domestic Product;

• A total investment portfolio of 4.99 billion dollars;

• for the financial year 2016, a return on investment of 7.44 per cent, up 84 basis points from the last financial year;
• a highly impressive revenue performance over the same period of 331-million dollars or 3.5 per cent of GDP.

• and 23 per cent of the FNPF’s holdings in liquid assets – cash on hand – to meet its immediate and short term needs.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, the FNPF enters its second half century more secure than at any other time in its history. A dynamic, forward-looking institution that mirrors Fiji’s economic fortunes as a whole. But its success is by no means guaranteed. And tonight’s celebration must also be an occasion for sober reflection on the importance of managing the FNPF properly. Of entrusting its fortunes to highly qualified professionals and keeping it out of the hands of unscrupulous politicians or those who think they can treat it as a slush fund or those who do not have the expertise to make sober decisions.

Only a few years ago, we became aware of the wake-up call that had not been heeded by previous governments and FNPF boards. A wake-up call I will not forget. The news that because of mismanagement and lack of foresight and vision under the supervision of previous governments and FNPF Boards, the FNPF was on a steady course to ruin. Indeed, we were told that it would run out of funds altogether within 40 years. That by 2056, those entering the workforce now would have nothing to show for the contributions they had made into the Fund. And faced a retirement without the income their parents and grandparents had come to expect.

It was a crisis that I determined required radical intervention to reform the Fund and place it on a proper footing. And that’s what we did by installing a new board in 2011 chaired by Ajith Kodagoda, which embarking on a series of reforms that turned the FNPF around.

Although the reform process was painful, it benefited the Fund and it stopped the rot. And I’m very proud that my Government had the resolve – the determination – to push those reforms through. Because history has proved us right. That intervention has been vindicated.

Over the past six years, the decline has not only been reversed, but the FNPF is now delivering some of the highest returns in the Asia Pacific region. It has since the reform been the recipient of three merit awards from the International Social Security Association. So the FNPF has been steadily gaining in strength as those reforms have paid the dividends we always knew were there, with proper management and proper transparency and accountability.

Thank you, Ajith, on behalf of every Fijian for leading the reform process and with the other board members, securing the FNPF’s future. We now have seasoned professionals in place who are charting the organisation’s course into its next half century. With a number of key strategies that will take the FNPF to the next level.

• These include going digital – to provide members with better access and improve service delivering.
• To diversify its investments, to make more investments offshore and in property development to maximise returns for its members.
• To enhance its social security offerings by exploring investments in tertiary health care, health insurance and retirement homes.
• And to use the 50th anniversary to restructure the FNPF to improve its overall culture and keep it relevant going into the future.

So Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, while the FNPF celebrates its past and its 50 years of service to the Fijian people, it has its next half century very much in its sights.

The one thing that will not change is the sacred duty of every board, management and staff member of the FNPF to safeguard the interests of our people. To help them achieve their hopes and dreams by managing their contributions to the highest standards of prudence and probity.

As I say in my introduction to the book officially commemorating 50 years of service, the FNPF isn’t just about dollars and cents. Its real success is measured by the satisfaction of its members. The bright faces of our children whose families have secure financial futures. And the relief of ordinary Fijians when they can access their funds in times of need, such as in the wake of Tropical Cyclone Winston.

It is also in the smiles of our retirees, who after a lifetime of dedicated effort in helping build our nation, can enjoy the secure and comfortable retirement they deserve.

So to the custodians of our national superannuation fund, congratulations on this 50th anniversary, for overcoming the challenges of the past, for transforming the FNPF into the trusted organisation that it is today and for the work you are doing to plan the next half century of prosperity for the Fijian people.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, here’s to the next 50 years. And please enjoy the rest of the evening.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.