Individual pension bondholders who did not tender in their bonds in the ongoing Domestic Debt Exchange Programme (DDEP) have been exempted, Finance Minister, Ken Ofori-Atta, has disclosed.
According to him, the agreement with the aggrieved pensioners was reached on Wednesday in a letter he wrote to them.
“In (Wednesday’s) discussion with them, I sent a letter out to their convener very categorically that all pension bondholders who opted not to participate in the exercise are exempted from the DDEP,” Mr Ofori-Atta told Parliament in Accra yesterday.
The pensioners have been picketing at the Finance Ministry for the past two weeks for the minister to exempt them from the exercise though the minister insisted they were free to self-exempt themselves from the programme.
Briefing the House on the programme, Mr Ofori-Atta dispelled accusations that government was seeking to appropriate funds of pensioners through the programme.
“Mr Speaker, let us put it to bed here that government at no point in time looked at an opportunity to take money from pensioners because we made it voluntary. So you can’t say that a voluntary exercise deems to take money from you.
“We have option to a free to take and most of them legitimately believed they would hold their bonds to the very end.
“Mr Speaker, I want to be clear. The reason for this debt treatment to be voluntary is because we did not want to take anybody’s money from them. Completely voluntary that it was your choice or not.”
The ramifications for the decision by the pensioners to be exempted from the programme, the minister said was at their own risk in a turbulent financial market despite the counsel they have been offered.
“As we advise people about the future in this very tough economic circumstances, it is our responsibility for everybody to be aware of the risk that may occur from the market and that is why we encouraged people to tender in their bonds.
“Clearly, we have also stated categorically that interest coupons and principals would be honoured,” he added. The minister told the House that government respected the dignity of the aged population and would not do anything to undermine them for a reason the programmer was restructured from the original one.
“Mr Speaker, government remains committed to the well-being and dignity of our senior citizens and pensioners,” he stated adding that their picketing at the ministry had caused him “great distress.”
“That is why realising that 80 per cent of retiree bonds would mature over a five-year period, we therefore brought the maturity to five years so that the time value of money would be safe.”
He stressed the need for the programme to be successful in order to secure an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout programme by March to prevent a possible crush of the economy.
The minister assured that the government has the capacity to turn the economic fortunes of the country around as it did when it took the reins of power in 2017 under an IMF programme.
“We came in 2017 and met a very difficult economic situation but we did not shy away from it and so in this present predicament too, we will navigate through it successfully.”
BY JULIUS YAO PETETSI