FSC seen as falling down on the job
A disheartened top pension lawyer Angela Fowler expressed disappointment that the Financial Services Commission (FSC) continues to delay, for nine months and counting, a 'straightforward' application to amend a pension scheme.
The case is seen as symptomatic of an overwhelmed regulator whose resources and in-house talent seem insufficient in number to conduct its work effectively ? a view expressed at a Gleaner Editor's Forum on Wednesday.
Allan Lewis, the president of the Pension Funds Association of Jamaica (PFAJ), offered measured agreement with Fowler. He argued that the simple approval of a trustee can take six months or longer, as it requires FSC board approval.
'I think that there has to be a look in and some form of delayering,' said Fowler, a partner at Livingston Alexander and Levy, at a Gleaner Editor's Forum on Wednesday.
"We put in an application in November for an amendment and it took them three months to tell us there was a variance of two between the numbers which appeared in the certificate of compliance and when the [FSC] officer counted the tally sheet for the vote," Fowler said. "Even so, the two persons would have been insignificant because we got more than the requisite [number] needed for the approval of the amendment ... it is now, how many months later, and we have not heard anything from them on a matter I consider to be straightforward."
Private pension schemes hold more than $360 billion under management for their clients.
"We need people in the system willing to make practical and purposive decisions; to encourage and not discourage. Right now, we are discouraged," Fowler said.
A request for comment from the FSC was not forthcoming up to press time. Alongside private pensions, the agency also regulates insurance companies and securities dealers.
Lewis played the diplomat even while agreeing with Fowler's concerns.
"We must always remember the good things they have brought into the system, including registration of trustees," he said.
"The Act requires that you register a trustee and the board of the FSC has to approve it. So if there is no board for six months, as there has been on many occasions, all these things just sit down. Even if they have down all the work internally, it cannot be approved " just the approval of a trustee,? he said in wonderment.
He added that the FSC and the way they regulate in Jamaica is 'prescriptive', while regulators in the United States and other developed nations are challenged to respond within a specific timeframe. In those jurisdictions, failure to act will result in a form of automatic granting of permission.
"So they have measures that force the regulators to perform," said Lewis. "We do not have that practice in Jamaica."
The FSC is said to have experienced an exodus of some seasoned professionals without replacement, in recent times.
"The biggest problem is that people leave and are not replaced, and so the people that remain are given more to do," said Sanya Goffe, an attorney and director of PFAJ. "They are overwhelmed."
Goffe later added that the FSC continues to meet regularly with the PFAJ and the relationship remains cordial.