New Haven divests from Sudan

The pension funds of New Haven’s municipal employees will no longer be invested in companies that do business with the Sudanese government, following unanimous votes late last week by the trustees of the city’s two municipal pensions.

The city’s decision, which has not yet been publicized, makes New Haven the second U.S. city after Providence, R.I., to divest, and coincides with the Connecticut House’s passage of a bill on Monday that would give the state treasurer the authority to divest approximately $19 million of state money currently thought to be invested in Sudan.

The measure passed by New Haven’s two pension boards prohibits the city’s two pension funds — the City Employees Retirement Fund and the Policemen and Firemen’s Pension Fund — from being invested in seven companies that do business with the Sudanese government, and it further requests that the city’s investment managers investigate whether additional companies should be considered for divestment, City Controller Mark Pietrosimone said. According to the city fund’s managers, none of the fund’s investments are in any of the seven companies targeted for divestment — the same companies from which Yale divested in February — but Pietrosimone said he is not yet sure how much, if any, of the police and firemen’s fund is in those companies. He said, though, that he did not think any substantial investments would be found.

Pietrosimone said the boards, which voted at a meeting last Thursday, voted sooner than he had expected on the issue, which was first raised by Ward 1 Alderman Nick Shalek ’05.

“I was expecting to present this and say to the board, ‘Let’s find out what we have, and let’s make a decision after that,’” Pietrosimone said. “They said, ‘No, we’ll do it now. Why wait?’”

Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said he supported the boards’ decision, comparing it to the city’s decision in the early 1990s to divest from investments in apartheid South Africa.

“While it is not normally the business of city government to take foreign policy stands, the genocide taking place in Sudan rises to the level of the apartheid divestment two decades ago,” DeStefano said in a statement released Tuesday. “It’s important that we use whatever legislative controls at our disposal to send a message that New Haven joins the world community in opposing the genocide occurring in Darfur.”

Shalek said the work of Students Taking Action Now: Darfur, as well as his own work in Yale’s Investments Office, made him aware of the potential of divestment. He said many of his colleagues on the Board of Aldermen were supportive of divestment efforts, even though the speed with which the pension trustees made their decision did not leave time for the board to debate the issue.

Jerry Sagnella, chairman of the city pension fund, said the board has not approved any such measures since divesting from the apartheid government of South Africa, partially because CERF’s trustees could be held personally liable if the performance of the funds was found to suffer.

“The trustees on both boards are fiduciaries and obviously think in terms of finances, but they’re all first and foremost good human beings,” Sagnella said. “There’s nobody on the other side of the table on an issue like this. There’s no way that it can be justified.”

James Kottage, the chairman of the Policemen and Firemen’s Pension Fund, said the board was influenced by media reports about the Sudanese genocide, as well as by Yale and Providence’s decisions to approve divestment policies. The list of seven companies from which the city approved divestment were all identified by the Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School as connected to Sudan.

“A lot of people aren’t making decisions, they’re just talking, and we decided to make a decision,” Kottage said.

A number of other divestment proposals had been brought before the trustees, Sagnella said, including proposals to divest from firms that participate in the production of nuclear weapons, but the board is not likely to consider further divestment motions.

“Those are the ones that require a lot more thought, a lot more legal research,” he said. “Divestiture is something that you can’t just take lightly, and it could backfire.”

Pietrosimone said the market values of the two funds affected — the City Employees Retirement Fund and the Policemen and Firemen’s Pension Fund — are $182 million and $280 million, respectively.

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