FUTURE pensioners are seeing their benefits slip away with each extra day taken to get the Mandatory Provident Fund's administrative machinery up and running, industry sources say. 'Every day it's delayed is another day we're not saving,' said Rob Pocknee, National Mutual Insurance's general manager for MPF and employee benefits. Compounding had such a powerful impact on investment returns that slowness in starting the universal pension scheme was putting Hong Kong workers' future retirement benefits at significant risk, he said. Two years and eight months, to the day, elapsed from the August 1995 passage of the original barebones MPF legislation to the final approval early this month of the Government's application for $5.6 billion in funding to get the programme off the ground. Assuming employees and employers are able to start contributing to the scheme in late 1999 or early 2000, as suggested by the Secretary for Financial Services, Rafael Hui Si-yan, the intervening period will have stretched to 4.5 years in all. An MPF calculator on the National Mutual web site ( www.nm.com.hk ) makes short work of figuring out the opportunity cost of that delay. For example, we input numbers for a sample employee who was 25 in August 1995, has $20,000 in relevant income each month and achieves an average annual return of 8 per cent on her retirement savings. A quick click of the mouse reveals that the employee's nest egg upon retiring at age 65 will be 28 per cent smaller ($4,652,814 instead of $6,442,159) than it would have been without a four-year delay. 'There will be people who won't have enough money to retire on because of the delay,' said John Snelgrove, National Mutual's general manager for employee benefits and corporate affairs. These two executives and many others in the pension industry are calling on the Government to speed up its implementation of the MPF scheme. Mr Pocknee said, only half tongue in cheek, that he would be ready to start selling MPF products tomorrow - if only the Government would give the green light. Failing that, he would at least like a timetable outlining the Government's implementation targets so that he and his colleagues could start gearing up National Mutual's own MPF operation. 'We've got our finger poised over the button to hire 100 people,' he said. A spokesman for the MPF Office said June would mark the first milestone on the way to Mr Hui's goal of getting the first MPF contributions flowing in late 1999 or early 2000. By June, all of the executive and non-executive directors of the soon-to-be-created MPF Authority would have been appointed, the spokesman said. Other immediate tasks included the hiring of two consultants, he said. One, whose work would be concluded by August or September, would recommend a structure for the authority and determine its staffing needs and pay packages. The other would study the authority's information-technology needs and, in particular, how best to set up the network connecting the authority with provident-fund trustees.