State not willing to divest from Sudan

Activist disappointed that KPERS holdings won't be moved

? State lawmakers Wednesday refused to push for selling off approximately $43.5 million in Kansas public pension investments in Sudan, which the U.S. government says is guilty of genocide.

Several members of the House-Senate committee on pensions said they feared divesting in Sudan would set a precedent that could lead to divestment of holdings in a number of other countries.

“This gets to be a big thing if you start doing it,” said state Rep. John Edmonds, R-Great Bend.

“It may be Sudan today, but who knows who it could be next year,” said Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton.

Sonny Scroggins, a human rights activist from Topeka, said he was disappointed.

“They (lawmakers) are supposed to be the conscience of the people,” Scroggins said as he held an anti-Sudan protest sign outside the Capitol. “They worry about big business and money at the expense of life.”

The U.S. has accused the Sudanese government of genocide against ethnic African tribes in fighting that has left 200,000 dead and 2.5 million homeless since 2003.

Despite the committee’s rejection of divestment, the issue isn’t dead in the Kansas Statehouse.

A proposal is expected to be filed during the legislative session that starts in January that would require the state to sell off investments in Sudan that are made through the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System.

KPERS administers retirement plans for state and local public employees. It has assets of $12.2 billion and 250,000 members, including all state employees and school teachers.

Glenn Deck, executive director of KPERS, said the retirement system’s investment in the African nation, is about $43.5 million, which is about one-third of 1 percent of KPERS’ portfolio.

KPERS doesn’t have any direct holdings in Sudan or any investments in Sudanese companies, but it does hold securities of companies that have business connections to Sudan, he said.

“One of the most difficult aspects of this issue is determining what constitutes a business connection and the significance of that connection to the Sudanese government’s revenues,” he said.

Deck said selling the investments would have little effect on the overall performance of KPERS investments.

But it would cost from several hundred thousands dollars to several million dollars to liquidate and reinvest, he said.

Six states have divested from Sudan, and 20 others are considering it, he said.