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Belgium criticised for 'spoof' provision

A leading consultant has called on the Belgian government to im-plement full scale reform of the country's pension system, or risk cheating future generations of a decent retirement income.

Koen de Ryck, of Brussels-based Pragma Consulting, says the Belgian authorities must divorce the issue of pensions provision from the current country wage freeze and carve out a system for private third pillar schemes to be introduced in Belgium.

Failure to do so, he says, could lead to macro-economic disaster in the long term, We are not doing our future generations any favours at the moment, in view of the demographic crisis looming ahead, where tommorrow's pensioners will not receive sufficient retirement income to survive."

Castigating the present inaction of the Belgian government on reform, de Ryck says he is not in favour of abolishing social security pensions, but adds that this 'spoof national solidarity' was, in effect, nothing more than casting a lot of money into a full force gale. "Much more is needed to plug the pensions gap, and we should begin to rec-ognise that social security is only the beginning of the road. We need a better regulatory and tax system to en-courage private provision, as Belgium is a country where the potential for a funded system is enormous," he says.

De Ryck added that the people of Belgium were crying out for suitable retirement vehicles, pointing to the 20% rate of Belgian savings as a prime indicator.

A third pillar system, he pointed out, would not only boost much needed consumption in the country and attract foreign investment, but also cost nothing in terms of unemployment or tax loss. "What I'm suggesting is that maybe 5% of savings could be put aside in either DB, DC or hybrid schemes. We have to make this money more useful, because at the moment all we are seeing is dangerous political short-termism."

Paul de Smet of consultants Conac agrees the pensions issue must be split from wage negociations: "Reform has been stifled in recent times because the government will not separate much needed changes from the case of excessive salary costs. As a result, people in Belgium are worried about their future pensions. However, I expect some developments on the issue in the new year, but it is essential to keep it firmly on the agenda." Hugh Wheelan"

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