By CHATULA KANGALI–
PENSION funds, if well invested, can resolve most of the economic and infrastructural funding challenges developing countries like Zambia face.
It is encouraging that pension houses in the country are leading the way in the area of infrastructure development and other economic activities which are adding value to the country’s outlook.
For example, the Workers Compensation Fund Control Board (WCFCB) has continued to diversify its investment portfolio to grow the funds and maximize its financial returns.
The board has spread its investment across different sectors which have contributed to economic growth and job creation.
WCFC has an obligation of giving compensation funds to workers who suffer occupational diseases and accidents hence the need for the fund to remain sustainable through investments.
As of April, 2020, the board has invested 25 per cent in government securities, 21 per cent in property, seven per cent in equity and cash investment in a forest plantation.
The board has invested 14 per cent of its portfolio in property in different parts of the country.
Some of the key properties include residential properties for example, the Kalumbila houses, Kabelenga flats, house in Sheila Dare Road, 15 Mungule Road, Dr Dammie Flats, Mambilima Flats, Compensation Villas in Lusaka, Kafubu Mall and office Space developments.
The board has embarked on the construction of the K600 million Samfya International Convention Centre on the shores of Lake Bangweulu in Luapula Province.
The centre will come with a hotel and a shopping mall.
WCFCB commissioner and chief executive officer Priscilla Bwembya says funding for the project has already been secured.
“We are just remaining with a few contractual issues that we need to sort out before the construction can commence, however by this month, the project will start.
So far we have already done all the minor works within the vicinity of the centre including securing of the title deed,” Ms Bwembya said.
She says the project will be completed within a period of 20 months.
Ms Bwembya says the Samfya International Convention Centre which will come with a three- star hotel was in line with the board’s diversification agenda.
“ When we participated in the 2017 Luapula Expo the local administration requested us to consider tapping into the tourism potential of the area by coming up with an international convention centre which will come with a hotel and shopping mall, among other things,” Ms Bwembya said.
Labour and Social Security Permanent Secretary Chanda Kaziya said the construction of the centre will allow the government to attract more tourists to the Northern -circuit.
Mr Kaziya said the investment answers the government’s call for a diversification agenda into other areas of economic benefits as enshrined in the Seventh National Development Plan (7NDP).
“This investment is a game changer which will not only create jobs for the local people but will unlock the tourism potential that lies in this area,”Mr Kaziya said.
He says investments of such magnitude will add value to the economy and will change the trajectory of holiday business in the country from the usual dominance of Livingstone to Samfya District.
Local and international tourists will be attracted to visit the area because there will be available places to lodge in.
WCFCB has set aside a budget of K2 million to commence the development of a plantation in Kawambwa District, Luapula Province.
The board has acquired 500 hectares of land to plant pine and eucalyptus in Kawambwa.
The plantation is the new class of investment in WCFCB portfolio that will not only promote economic growth but also combat climate change.
Ms Bwembya says so far, 20 hectares of eucalyptus trees have been planted whose maturity was expected in eight years time.
She says the board is planning to plant 300 hectares of eucalyptus and 200 hectares of pine.
“A plantation is a long term investment. After accessing the climatic environment here, we saw it fit to invest in pine and eucalyptus.
Currently, this sector is monopolised and us coming on board will help meet the growing demand of wood on the local and international market, “she says.
The WCFCB is this year expected to commence the plantation of pine trees and that the necessary has already been established.
So far, 200 locals have been employed to work in the plantation with more expected to be employed as it expands.
Mr Kaziya commends WCFCB for its initiative to invest in a plantation.
Tree plantation is monopolised hence the Kawambwa investment will close the wood deficit gap in the country.
“This is a good investment, unique in its way, not only will it contribute to economic development but a green economy that is climate change is resilient, “Mr Kazyia says.
In May last year, WCFCB invested in Marcopolo Tiles Limited Company through the purchase of 10,000 shares valued at K720 each.
Last month the board received a dividend of K7.2 million from Marcopolo Tiles Company Limited from its 10 per cent shareholding.
Ms Bwembya says the purchase of shares in Marcopolo is in line with the board’s objective to diversify its investment portfolio to capture value from the manufacturing sector and maximise its financial returns.
“We are pleased to note that Marcopolo Tiles has not only continued to operate profitably but has contributed to the growth of the manufacturing sector of our economy,” she says.
Marcopolo Tiles Limited acting chief executive officer Roy Mwamba says the company has remained profitable despite the impact of COVID-19 on the economy.
The company remained afloat as it sourced 95 per cent of its raw materials locally and was not affected by slow imports during this period of the pandemic.
Marcopolo Tiles Limited is this year increasing its production and venture into sanitary accessories manufacturing like toilet pan, sinks and bath tabs.
Various investments in different sectors of the economy will help WCFCB remain sustainable and continue taking care of its pensioners with various levels of disability for a lifetime.
The board is conducting a tri- annual actuarial valuation to determine the soundness of its funds.
This will help the board know what per cent it will adjust to the pensions in line with workers compensation Act number 10 of 1999.
“Once we do that, we will make recommendations for pension adjustments and index the pension to inflation so that it does not lose value due to inflation,” Ms Bwembya says.
She notes that the WCFCB funding level is healthy due to its increased investments in various sectors of the economy.
The funding level in the last actuarial valuation stood at 249 per cent.
Ms Bwembya says WCFCB had more funds than liabilities and that it would continue working hard to grow it further.
WCFCB has a branch network of 22 supporting more than 19,000 beneficiaries countrywide.