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Stanchart leaves trail of ‘distress’... pensioners petition London head office over looting claims

The petition submitted to Standard Chartered Plc CEO, Bill Winters, disclosed that after being frustrated by low monthly pay-outs as little as US$6, they had engaged Stanchart Zim management, whom they described as “arrogant”, and the pension fund in Harare.

CLOSE to 200 Standard Chartered Bank Zimbabwe (Stanchart Zim) pensioners have submitted a 15-page petition to the lender’s London headquarters raising fears their life savings “may have been looted”, the Zimbabwe Independent can report.

The petition submitted to Standard Chartered Plc CEO, Bill Winters, disclosed that after being frustrated by low monthly pay-outs as little as US$6, they had engaged Stanchart Zim management, whom they described as “arrogant”, and the pension fund in Harare.

But they clung on to crucial information.

Stanchart Zim pensioners said the situation had worsened, particularly for those with chronic diseases.

They said lack of transparency over funds under management at Minerva had sparked mismanagement fears, which became a bigger concern after ‘pensioners were not notified of’ a significant amendment to the pension fund’s rules.

“Since 2019, the pension fund has had three failed audits,” Stanchart Zim pensioners told Winters in the petition dated April 27, 2024. The pensioners requested access to all the information regarding the fund (and) wrote to Minerva on the 9th of April 2024, requesting (documents) to enable us to have an appreciation of the fund’s legacy and current position, which we believed was going to help us in initiating dialogue with the bank,” the petition reads in part.

Timothy Nherudzo, managing director at Minerva, refuted the allegations, saying: “The information is readily available. The pensioners never asked to see those documents.”

But in their petition, Stanchart pensioners said: “To date, the pension fund administrator has not acted on this request. This has historically been the arrogant and disrespectful treatment the pensioners have been getting from both local management and the administrator.

“Failure to avail information by the fund managers leaves a lot to be desired and leaves room for suspicion of possible mismanagement of pensioners’ funds and we need your intervention in establishing whether the fund was being managed in good faith or not.”

Wasim Ben Khadra, regional head of communications, Africa and Middle East  at Standard Chartered Plc, said: “As a bank, we handle employee matters with utmost discipline and confidentiality, in full compliance with regulatory standards.

“We prioritise close collaboration with key stakeholders and ensure transparent communication with our employees throughout the process.”

Stanchart, which was snapped up by the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange listed FBC Holdings (FBCH) last year, was last week finalising its exit from Zimbabwe after Standard Chartered Plc hived out in 2022.

This was part of a broad strategy that saw the banking giant divesting from poorly performing emerging markets assets.

Units in Angola, Cameroon, Gambia, Jordan, Lebanon and Sierra Leone were also placed on sale.

In Zimbabwe, poor performance was underpinned by costs associated with a volatile currency and rampaging inflation.

Stanchart was last week said to have completed terms of transferring staff to FBCH. But the divesture appeared to have unsettled current and former staff members, who have demanded fair play from the bank that had operated in the country since 1892.

A trade union representing the workers told the Independent last week that it will be mounting demos at the British embassy in Harare today, protesting against “oppressive” exit terms.

Yesterday, the police said the union should seek clearance from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

But pensioners said implications of the exit were deeper.

“Several distress calls were made to the bank and board of trustees (BOT) through the pensioners’ trustees, and individual letters (even to the highest levels of the group),” the petition states.

Unfortunately, most of the individual letters have never been responded to … Our suggestions to the BOT through our trustees have mostly been rejected through the majority vote.

“There are certain issues that affect the life and survival of people, which cannot be resolved through voting. Having worked for the bank…we have also contributed positively to the profitability of the bank over the years.

“We, therefore, submit this letter as our final appeal to the bank to heed our distress calls. However, if we do not hear from the bank by 02/05/2024, we will assume that there is no appetite on its part to afford us a dignified life-style in line with the hard work and dedication we applied towards building the Standard Chartered brand,” the letter added.

They also slammed Stanchart Zim for failing to honour some of its promises.

“We have become a burden in the civil society in which we live in…surviving on borrowings from family, friends and relatives,” the letter further states.

“There are many pensioners with chronic diseases like high blood pressure and diabetes that require monthly medicine supplies, which are very costly and most pensioners are failing to buy such medication as a result of funds unavailability.

“Most of the pensioners never received a pension amount that was stated on the retrenchment letters. Attached is one of the letters, which indicates that the pensioner was entitled to receiving an amount of US$140,40 (per month) effective 1 March 2019, but they have never received, such an amount ever since they left the bank and we have more cases like this.

“This makes it very difficult to believe that our funds were properly managed if the fund managers fail to honour what was agreed on retrenchment,” the pensioners said in the letter.

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