S'porean man sues NZ ministry over pension

He alleges payouts were 'unfairly' reduced by NZ govt; tribunal orders mediation for case

A Singaporean based in New Zealand has taken the country's Ministry of Social Development (MSD) to court for reducing his pension benefits there by the amount he gets from his Central Provident Fund (CPF) deposits here.

He even tried to include New Zealand Prime Minister John Key as a defendant, alleging that as Prime Minister, Mr Key had failed to rectify the injustice done to him.

Last month, a Wellington-based judicial tribunal ordered that the case be sent for mediation.

There was "a clear interest" for both parties to settle their differences informally before going to the tribunal, it said in judgment grounds released last Monday.

Mr Tan Kong Hwee, whose age is not known, had last October complained against the move to cut his retirement benefits, alleging that he had been discriminated against for being a Singapore citizen.

According to court papers, he felt aggrieved that while expatriates who left Singapore were able to withdraw their CPF savings, Singapore citizens like him could not.

He claimed that Mr Key, who had worked in Singapore, was able to take out his CPF savings before leaving to work in London in 1995. It is understood that Mr Key was based in Singapore as head of Merrill Lynch's Asian foreign exchange before moving to London as the firm's head of global foreign exchange the same year. This was before Mr Key, then aged 34, entered politics.

The payouts in New Zealand had been made to Mr Tan under its Superannuation and Retirement Income Act 2001. The court judgment did not show what job Mr Tan did in New Zealand before retiring and how much he got in pensions.

A three-member Human Rights Review tribunal that heard the case made clear that Mr Tan had no legal basis to name Mr Key as a defendant in the case under the Human Rights Act 1993. It ordered that Mr Key's name be removed, leaving the chief executive officer of MSD as the sole defendant.

The tribunal also ordered that the case be sent to New Zealand's Human Rights Commission for mediation, with progress reports every four months and the first to be submitted to the tribunal by April.

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Commission said it did not provide mediation earlier because MSD's response to similar complaints over the years has been to deny any unlawful discrimination.

The ministry's view has been that the complaints are about the nature of pensions and not the national origins, ethnicity, race or age of the complainant.

"MSD had taken the same stance towards all pensions earned overseas," said the commission in its response to the tribunal.

MSD agreed mediation may contribute to settling the complaint "if only by assisting the parties to better understand each other's respective positions", noted the tribunal in its judgment.

Mr Tan opposed the move, citing the delay it would cause.

But the tribunal, chaired by Queen's Counsel R.P.G. Haines, found no urgency in the case. Noting no previous settlement attempt, it ordered the commission to mediate between the parties.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 19, 2016, with the headline 'S'porean man sues NZ ministry over pension'. Print Edition | Subscribe