Edition: Dec 2014 - Feb 2015
Mokate . . .
"Sentence first, verdict afterwards," said the Queen in Alice in Wonderland. And so we come to a case study in pension-fund governance where the board pronounces on sentence but not reasons for it.
Curiouser and curiouser. With every twist in the saga over John Oliphant at the Government Employees Fund, under a board now chaired by Renosi Mokate (herself once at the receiving end of suspension and dismissal), more questions than answers arise.
- First is the release by the GEPF of a media statement on the early afternoon of Nov 6. It confirmed the dismissal of Oliphant as GEPF principal executive officer. Why was the statement not put out immediately that the GEPF board had made its decision on Oct 31, rather than as an obvious reaction to the TT article that Moneyweb had published on the morning of Nov 6 (see next story).
- Second is the GEPF contention that Oliphant had been fired for "misconduct". It's the closest the GEPF has come to disclosing what the disciplinary inquiry was about. But the term "misconduct", sinister in its connotation, can mean anything from innocuous infractions to negligently or wilfully causing financial loss. The "misconduct" isn't specified. Is this supposed to suffice for transparency?
- Third is the media release distributed by Oliphant's lawyers, on his behalf, late in the afternoon of Nov 6. Their statement disputes that Oliphant is guilty of "misconduct". How can the GEPF and the Oliphant lawyers both be right?
- Fourth is the content of the lawyers’ statement. For the first time, the allegations against Oliphant and his defences to them are publicly detailed. How will the GEPF respond to disclosures that it has refused to allow?
- Fifth is the detail. Reading the statement of the Oliphant lawyers, and assuming that they aren't lying, the worst had to do with differing interpretation and application of certain supply-chain management rules. There had been "no irregular, unauthorised or fruitless and wasteful expenditure". Would any other employer reasonably consider the alleged transgressions to be grounds for suspension and dismissal?
- Sixth is the revelation that, at the inquiry, the GEPF was represented by senior counsel, junior counsel and an attorney whereas Oliphant was represented (presumably from his own pocket) by an attorney only. On what basis does the GEPF justify having paid for such a hefty legal team, and was the balance fair?
- Seventh is in the amount of money investigated. It looks to be around R2m (nothing misappropriated) plus something to do with a TV installation. How do the costs incurred by the GEPF, inclusive of the forensic report by outside auditors, compare with the R2m?
- Eighth is that a junior member of the Pretoria Bar chaired the inquiry. Was she appointed by agreement between the parties or by the GEPF unilaterally, despite objections?
- Ninth concerns the appeals process. If Oliphant exercises a right to appeal, how can the GEPF finalise his dismissal? If he can't be dismissed pending the outcome of an appeal, does he remain under suspension? And if his appeal succeeds, can it be expected that he'll return to the GEPF?
- Tenth is who, in the event of an appeal, will hear it. The CCMA or the Labour Court? A sub-committee of the board that includes dissenting trustees? An independent outsider at additional expense to GEPF members?
- Finally, did Oliphant's internationally-recognised record of GEPF service count for nothing?
One could go on. Unless common sense is allowed to prevail, this matter doubtless will.
• Full texts of the media releases, by the GEPF and the Oliphant lawyers, can be found by clicking on the ‘GEPF/Oliphant' button on the left.
TT has applied under the Promotion of Access to Information Act for access to the minutes of the GEPF board meeting held on Oct 31. This application follows the release by the GEPF of a media statement on Nov 6 in which it announced the dismissal of John Oliphant as GEPF principal executive officer.
The purpose of the application is to enable TT, on receiving these minutes, to report in the public interest on how the board arrived at the decisions to which the media statement referred. The application noted that the statement had:
- Mentioned charges of "misconduct", without identifying those charges;
- Mentioned its satisfaction that "due process" had been followed, without identifying such "due process" particularly in regard to rights of appeal;
- Failed to indicate how the board, in exercising its mind, had concluded that the dismissal of Oliphant was appropriate for the "misconduct" charges on which he had been found guilty.