Fund management vulnerable to wheeling and dealing

Aside from its criminal implications, the issue of the overpriced government bonds purchased by pension funds, which has recently rocked the Greek political scene, has shed light on a number of other parameters that will remain even after all the relevant details have been clarified. To begin with, let us not forget that the principal issue revolves around the management of pension fund assets with a total value of approximately 30 billion euros. The basic and obvious requirement in the investment of fund reserves is transparency, while the degree of risk funds should be able to assume is a matter for discussion. The selection process for the heads of pension funds – who make decisions involving the investment of hundreds of millions of euros – is a sorry affair. As a rule, they come from the ranks of the party that happens to be in power and, at best, have only the minimum qualifications. When the alleged scandal in the Civil Servants’ Auxiliary Pension Fund first broke out in mid-March, part of the controversy centered on whether the qualifications of its head, Agapios Simaioforidis, a retired army officer, could really be considered equivalent to a university degree (the implication being that this was an acceptable minimum). It goes without saying that professional portfolio managers, who would have been hired on merit, would have been much better qualified to choose between straight or structured bonds and make an effective case for their choices. However, investment decisions today are often significantly affected by empirical factors or the opinions of friends, acquaintances and party potentates. It seems that such appointments of amateur fund managers goes hand-in-hand with the the lack of an efficient state mechanism. It is quite incredible that in a European Union member state, those responsible for such gross irregularities are recruited from ministries, the Bank of Greece and various committees, and they all claim innocence. Indeed, the extent of the incompetence among key government officials, who still find it difficult to provide a credible account of all that has happened, is a source of embarrassment. It makes little difference whether they gather a wealth of information or not. What is imperative is that this information is reliable.

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