The Public Protector, Busisiwe Mkhwebane, has indicated that her office will oppose the application of the Minister of Finance to have the report on the Venda Pension Fund saga reviewed and set aside. She appointed Boqwana Burns Inc as attorneys on record who will represent her office in the case.
The fact that the Public Protector (PP) will be opposing the minister’s application, is quite significant, said Mr Hennie Erwee, a Musina based attorney earlier this week. Erwee Attorneys act on behalf of the Venda Concerned Pensioners Group (VCPG). Collectively they represent a claimed 16 300 former members of the Venda Pension Fund. The chairperson of the group, Tshimangadzo Tshiololi, is one of the respondents in the case.
“This effectively means that the case is now heading for court and a judge will have to rule on the validity of the PP’s report, in other words whether or not the remedial action prescribed is enforceable,” said Erwee.
One of the problems that Erwee foresees for the minister’s legal team, is how they will convince a court to condone the fact that they only approach the court now. The review application was filed in the Gauteng North High Court in March this year, several years after former PP Thuli Madonsela brought out her report. Madonsela’s report on the matter dates back to 2012, while Mkhwebane’s special report was made public in 2017.
Erwee was optimistic that a court date could soon be set and that the matter will be heard before the end of the year.
Earlier this year Mkhwebane criticised government institutions for not implementing remedial actions stipulated in reports. She mentioned the Vhembe Concerned Pensioners case as an example that “demonstrates the gravity of the problem” faced by her office.
In 2011, her predecessor, Adv Thuli Madonsela, investigated the complaints by pensioners that the National Treasury and the Government Employees Pension Fund (GPEF) had acted improperly when privatising the Venda Pension Fund. Madonsela found, among other things, that the complainants had suffered prejudice as they were influenced to privatise their pension benefits but were not properly informed about the consequences of the privatisation.
Following Madonsela’s finding, a task team was formed to investigate the claims and verify the information of the claimants.
The issue gathered dust on the desks of various officials for a number of years. The matter eventually ended up on the desk of the new PP, Advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane. In her “Special Report” she directed Lungisa Fuzile, the director general of finance, to submit an action plan on remedial action to be taken.
Mkhwebane’s report also tried to address fears expressed that payment of compensation in this matter would open up a floodgate of claims by former state employees. “The remedial action in [the 2011 report] was designed to address maladministration that is demonstrably unfair and unreasonable in the specific set of circumstances of this matter,” it said.
The consolidated list of complainants estimated the number at approximately 7 000, many of whom are “penniless, relying on old-age grants, while a number had already passed on”.
In December 2017, Treasury said it was working together with the Government Pensions Administration Agency (GPAA) to address the remedial action. The GPAA embarked on a process of reviewing available data, saying that this was necessary to ensure that the project would be implemented accurately. Treasury also enlisted the services of an actuary in an attempt to establish a reliable database of potential beneficiaries of the proposed remedial action.
The hopes of thousands of pensioners to finally receive some sort of compensation were, however, dashed a few months ago when the Minister of Finance indicated that his office will contest the PP’s findings.
“The majority of Venda pensioners are living in abject poverty, depending on social grants. It really hurts to see people dying as paupers, having served the government for a period of 30 to 40 years,” said Tshiololi in an interview earlier this year.
Date:30 May 2019 - By: Anton van Zyl
Anton van Zyl has been with the Zoutpansberger and Limpopo Mirror since 1990. He graduated from the Rand Afrikaans University (now University of Johannesburg) and obtained a BA Communications degree. He is a founder member of the Association of Independent Publishers.