Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- Writing can be a draining process. The time and thought required to produce a piece of professional standards is considerable, and consequently, the writer expects a particular reaction from his or her readers. Unfortunately, in the Arab world, responses often only constitute either downright slander or absolute praise. In most cases, the ideas, visions and suggestions proposed by the writer fall upon deaf ears even when concerned institution may be in dire need of them.
At best, an institution may apply some of a writer’s suggestions or repeat an opinion from the piece without crediting the writer. Concerned parties have often ignored my visions and suggestions for the development of the Islamic banking industry and its markets.
However, on the same day that my article entitled ‘A Look at Musharakah Bonds’(Asharq Al-Awsat, 28 May 2008) was published, I was surprised to receive a message from the Public Pension Agency’s Financial Investment Department. I was astonished by their rapid and efficient response and we arranged to meet to discuss the article further
The meeting revealed that the agency, which is responsible for managing billions of Saudi Riyals in pension funds, is lacking in the bureaucracy that stifles other government departments, whose methods are well known! Rather, it is run in a professional manner.
The meeting also revealed their professional competency to be on par with their private sector counterparts; they work according to specific visions and strategies in order to fulfil the interests of the members of the pension program at present and in the future.
The Saudi population is largely young, and thus the agency will soon have to cope with the realities of an aging society. Moreover, as a large segment of the labour force reaches retirement age, the institution must begin investing funds to ensure that it will be able to meet clients’ needs in the future.
However, the institution has not overlooked its social responsibility as part of its plans. Its residential finance program reflects the concern, despite the criticisms levelled against the program, which can only be expected from any new experience.
In the meeting, we also discussed how to rectify the lack of understanding amongst many members of the pension scheme in terms of how they may fully benefit from the program. The institution must exert greater efforts to clarify such systems, especially to public-sector employees. Media coverage and more attention on the agency’s official website of the issue will help clarify Shariaa and the program’s legal basis.
The pension scheme is similar to the takaful insurance scheme, or mutual insurance in accordance with Shariaa, offered by insurance companies whereby the pension instalment is deducted as an obligatory contribution to all subscribers to the program, provided that the benefits of the program are subject to certain conditions.
The instalment and pension benefits do not rightfully belong to the employee so that they may be included in his or her estate and to lenders in the case of bankruptcy. Rather, ownership is subject to conditions and constraints outlined in contracts and civil service regulations that the employee agrees to when he or she accepts employment.
As such, the Public Pensions Agency is not a charitable institution that looks after retirees and he or she does not fully own the pension instalments and benefits; rather, he or she claims what the system stipulates in accordance with conditions.
I was prompted to write this article by a prophetic hadith in which the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) says, “Whosoever does not thank people does not thank God.” Perhaps the Public Pensions Agency with its aforementioned response can set an example for other institutions, both in the private and public sector.