Forty years of Independence will be celebrated this month as nationally, we reminisce about the struggles of our forefathers and leaders to bring this country to political independence and maintain our sovereignty as a nation.
Whether we have reached maturity has been discussed in different contexts, but the fact remains that we all need some form of financial security in this modern world. The Vanuatu National Provident Fund (VNPF) has had its share of a colourful history and in this piece, we pay tribute to our past under the various General Managers and Board of Directors.
Following Independence, the Vanuatu Government was determined to set up a social security system that best suits the needs of the country. They considered a number of studies that were conducted by the International Labour Organisation and under a UNDP funded project, drew up the legislation and framework of the Fund. Once the project lapsed, the United Kingdom provided further technical assistance towards setting up a computerized system to develop and maintain the records.
The VNPF Act was endorsed by Parliament in 1986 and in 1987, VNPF first commenced operations with 3% contributions that was deducted from employees’ monthly remuneration and 3% was contributed by the employer. A Member Module was first introduced and used at that time.
After four years of operation under the leadership of late Mr Joel Bomal Carlo as General Manager (1986 to 1992), a new building to house VNPF’s head office was built where the former Ciné Pacifique was located.
It was around this time that the Maximise membership system was introduced to VNPF.
From 1993 to 1994, Mr. Marokon Alilee was appointed as General Manager, followed by Mr. Josias Moli who served from 1994 to 1996.
VNPF acquired one of its first properties; the Winsor House (now Trans Pacific House), opposite the Vodafone car park area at Fatumaru bay.
From 1996 to 1998, Mrs Ietonga Aiong took office as General Manager. Under her leadership, VNPF Santo Branch commenced operations in the year 1997.
The riot in 1998 caused a deficit in the Fund’s General Reserve Account after members became aware that their savings were being misused due to political interference in the management of the Fund. The riot caused a mass withdrawal and the Fund was brought to its knees. It was at this time that Mr Ranjit Kanagasbai, a Siri-Lankan was recruited as General Manager in 1999 to revive the Fund and bring it back to normalcy.
We are thankful to the Asian Development Bank (ADB) through the Vanuatu Government who were able to assist rebuild VNPF. In that same period, VNPF conducted a major restructure of its working strategies and the more efficient Maximize system made to replace the Members Module.
In 2001, members and employers were required to increase their monthly contributions to 4% each and in that same year, the final disbursement of ADB’s grant through Vanuatu Government was completed. The Fund had grown its membership and returned its General Reserve to a positive balance.
From 2003 to 2009, Mr. Caleb Sandy served as General Manager and under his leadership; one of the best performing investments of the Fund, the Australian High Commission building was constructed.
Under Mr Sandy’s term also, VNPF was also able to sell Tran’s Pacific building in 2005.
VNPF’s history was also marked when in 2007, the VNPF Act [CAP.189] was amended and 3 savings accounts were created; that is Medical, Investment and Retirement. This amendment also established the Fund’s subsidiary company, Member Financial Services Limited (MFSL).
From 2008, MFSL has been providing micro-loans to Members and allowing them to pledge their savings.
The year 2008 also saw commencement of the constructing of the National Bank of Vanuatu (NBV) building and Malekula Branch office starting operations.
In 2009, several major investments were carried out which include the purchase of Air Vanuatu building, giving out a loan to Air Vanuatu for its operations, the purchase of Santo’s Milai Farm (now called Beleru farm) and the purchase of Bouffa farm at Efate (located at Bellevue Estate).
Tanna Branch office also began operations in this same year.
In 2010, VNPF recruited Mr. Edmond Williamson as the Acting General Manager and later in 2011, Mrs Anniva Tarilongi took the role as General Manager.
Mrs Tarilongi served one year in this position from 2011-2012 where some major investments were undertaken; namely the purchase of Nasama Strata Titles and the purchase of the Centre Point property with La Foncier.
Under Mrs Tarilongi’s leadership, the CEO’s residence at Namba 3 road to Elluk Plateau (Efate) was also sold and the Bay Development House (formerly the Banque d’Hawaii building) was purchased.
There was also some major organisational restructuring within the Fund which led to a mini riot in 2012 when rumours of nepotism and politics surfaced. Mr Santos Vatoko was then been appointed as the Acting General Manager in 2012 and later appointed as General Manager in 2013. Under his leadership VNPF acquired 37.5% shares in Interchange Limited (ICL); the underwater submarine cable connecting the Southern Cross cable through Fiji and Vanuatu.
In that same year, the Fund also purchased the Club Vanuatu building with the intention to house the Vanuatu Customs and Inland Revenue department. The building has been through renovation and it has been declared to be the NBV House in 2019.
VNPF later invested in Vanuatu Property Holdings to construct the Wilco Hardware Limited property in Luganville Santo, as well as in Port Vila Efate.
Under Mr Vatoko’s leadership from 2014 to 2016, the archiving system was improved, allowing staff to retrieve Member records more easily; and the Procurements Department established to ensure accurate and appropriate tendering procedures and administrative expenses of the Fund.
In 2015 VNPF responded to the state of emergency relief during the aftermath of the category 5 Tropical Cyclone Pam. The Fund paid out 20% of over 21,000 Members’ savings from their retirement accounts. The operation lasted for over three months despite the impact of PAM on business operations and households.
In 2015, VNPF acquired 14.4% shares in UNELCO Company and in 2016, received its first dividend payout from UNELCO.
In 2016, VNPF also reviewed its legislation in order to strengthen compliance checks on employers’ and thus increase contributions. There were also staff training conducted and study awards giving opportunities for staff to strengthen their knowledge and skills.
In 2017 Mr. Parmod Achary was appointed as the General Manager of the Fund. Under his management the fund has invested in purchasing the Conquistador Apartments and placed offshore investments by buying units of shares with the Unit Trust of Fiji. In that same year, VNPF purchased additional shares from UNELCO, bringing total shares to 40% and also received a dividend payout from UNELCO.
The Fund also declared a 2% annual interest rate to be credited to members’ accounts after lesser amounts were declared in previous years.
In 2018, the Fund introduced a new Strategic Plan (2018 to 2022) with a focus on four areas; Revenue, Members’ Funds Management, Organisational Strengthening and People & Culture.
Under the current leadership of Mr Achary, the Fund continues to embark on its investment and strategic goals which has seen the establishment of the Informal Sector unit to cater for voluntary contributions from the self-employed as well as informal sector workers such as bus drivers, house girls, kava sellers, market vendors etc…
General Manager Achary has worked tirelessly to revive failed investments which have currently brought increasing amount of returns into Members’ Accounts. A good example is the Ex-Post Office building, recently renovated and currently occupied by Vodafone. That property is currently a shining image of the Fund in the heart of Port Vila.
The performing investments under Mr Achary’s leadership are Air Vanuatu Building, the Australian High Commission, the National Bank of Vanuatu, the No.2 Lagoon Residential Property, the Conquistador rental Apartments, the Unit Trust of Fiji investment, the AVL (Credit Foncier) loan, ICL investment, TVL(Vodafone) convertible loan, and UNELCO shares. These investment portfolios current valuation stand at VT5 billion.
Under his leadership, the Fund’s financial status is sound and safe as the once negative General Reserve account has turned positive.
In 2019, VNPF purchased a property in New Caledonia to house the consulate office of the Vanuatu Government in New Caledonia. The property was opened on March of 2020 in the presence of the current General Manager, Mr Achary, the government of New Caledonia, the representatives of the government of Vanuatu, and the people of Vanuatu residing in New Caledonia. The Haus Blong Vanuatu as it is called is the emblem of partnership between Nouméa and Port Vila which VNPF is proud to be part of it.
VNPF also introduced the Member Education Support Scheme (MESS) to assist members in their education career and support them with school loan packages for their families.
A declaration of 1.2% was declared in last year and credited to members’ accounts.
The Fund is committing itself to implement the Decentralisation Policy of the Government of Vanuatu to bring its services closer to the people. This can be seen through the Laying of the Foundation Stone of VNPF Tanna Branch on 26th June 2020. Our future endeavour is to buy land in Lakatoro to establish our own office as well so as to extend our presence to other islands of Vanuatu.
This year marks the 40th year anniversary of the country whilst VNPF turns 33 years old. Whilst we celebrate our achievements, we are also mindful of the current world health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the victims of TC Harold.
To this end, VNPF has Hardship Loans amounting to VT1.6 billion to its 26,724 Members for COVID-19 whilst VT102,435,000 has been paid to 1,047 victims of TC Harold., We have also recently paid VT3,374,000 to 40 Members on Tanna who are victims of Yasur Volcano ash fall.
The Fund has faced a lot of challenges under the various leaderships and there is still much room for improvement towards the growth of this institution and the socio-economic development of the people of Vanuatu as a whole.
As we celebrate the country’s independence anniversary, the VNPF Board, the General Manager and the staff also take this opportunity to wish all VNPF Members, Employers and the people of Vanuatu a Happy 40th Independence Anniversary. To you all we would like to say thank you for your hard work, your trust and your support towards the Fund.
LONG LIVE VANUATU, LONG LIVE VNPF.