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Thursday, March 31, 2016

Is Socso's fund still safe with new section 74a?


What are the common denominations of public entities such as Employees Provident Fund (EPF), Kumpulan Wang Persaraan (Diperbadankan) (KWAP), Lembaga Tabung Angkatan Tentera (LTAT), Tabung Haji and Social Security Organization (Socso)? Yes, they are part of our social security funds.
Each of these funds is regulated by its own special legislation. Each law was specifically designed in order to ensure the organisation would operate within the specified boundaries which were prescribed for it.
Since the sources of these funds originate from the people, it goes without saying that the money should only be used and utilised for the specified purposes designed for them. In a nutshell, these funds are the trust funds.
It is common knowledge that on many occasions, we have witnessed how these social security funds were arbitrarily used, going beyond the mandated scope, such as bailing out certain ambiguous and dubious businesses.
In a society where the principles of accountability, transparency and trustworthiness is extremely low, the social security funds can become easy prey of ferocious political predators.
We have seen how a sizable chunk of money from EPF, KWAP, LTAT and Tabung Haji were arbitrarily used before in order to bail out some irresponsible elements in the country.
Fortunately, so far, we have not heard of or seen any bailout coming from the Socso's fund. It is everybody's wish and hope, especially the contributors to the fund, that Socso will forever keep on track insofar as the management of the workers' money is concerned.
Worrying amendment
Whether the Socso's huge and valuable assets remain secured and safe is questionable now, given the fact that some controversial amendments have been introduced by BN government to the Employees' Social Security Act 1969 ("Act"). A new section of 74a,which is inserted in the Act, has raised some eyebrows due to its deep impact on the security of the fund.
I don't have the current figures of Socso's assets but according to the Socso annual report of 2014, the value of its current assets (mostly cash) was RM 11 billion and its non current assets stood at RM 11billion. With the new amendments of the Act, all the employees, regardless of their salaries, are obligated to contribute to Socso. Be that as it may, we expect its current assets would be steadily increased manifold.
The new provision of section 74a allows Socso to establish or take over any company, with the approval of Minister of Human Resources and Minister of Finance respectively.
Two days were allocated by Parliament for the debate and ministerial reply respectively on the amendments of the Act. Many Pakatan Harapan members of parliament (MPs) who participated in the debate, I included, strenuously objected to this controversial section of 74a. As expected, BN MPs accepted this section without demur.
Apart from section 74a, many also raised the issue of the removal of Bank Negara's representative from the Socso's panel of investment. The government justified such a removal by using the excuse of conflict of interest. We raised legitimate concerns that such a removal would jeopardise the internal mechanism of checks and balance.
But my focus in this article is more on the new section of 74a. As far as I am concerned, this provision has far reaching repercussions on the survivability and longevity of this social security fund.
Room for misappropriation
Our reason for the objection was very clear. Why should the government drag Socso to do something which it was not designed for in the first place? Why is there a need to derail Socso from its original objectives and statutory functions? What is the underlying rationale stimulating the government to introduce such a mind-boggling provision?
We believe all these questions are legitimate and they demand truthful and honest answers from the government, considering the sizable chunk of money in Socso’s fund.
When I debated, I raised the concerns that this new section would possibly expose the trust money in the Socso fund to a very high risk. Not only that. Section 74a, I contended, would also possibly give room for the misappropriation of such a fund for any undesignated purpose. Using the fund for establishing or taking over any company is definitely outside the purview of Socso’s roles and functions.
In my debate, I queried the minister, "Can you give us the guarantee or assurance that not even a single penny would be taken from the Socso’s fund for the purpose of establishing and running a new company or taking over any existing company?”
Unfortunately, the minister did not answer my question. In fact, many other questions by my colleagues also remained unanswered.
I dare to say that the way minister replied to our questions, he seemed to have lost direction and gone off tangent so much so we had a hard time understanding him, let alone his reasons.
When we asked him what was really the rationale for allowing Socso to establish or take over a company, his reply was, "Socso established a rehab centre in Malacca and I have visited the place. When I looked at the patients therein, my tears fell down."
An irrelevant reply to a fairly simple question. With such a reply, I believe, all the Malaysians have more reasons to be concerned with the future of the Socso's fund.

MOHAMED HANIPA MAIDIN is Sepang MP. -Mkini

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