Edition: Dec 2014 - Feb 2015


Chief fired, says acting chief

Nobody can say whether the punishment fits the crime when the supposed crime isn't divulged.

John Oliphant has been dismissed as principal executive officer of the Government Employees Pensions Fund. That's according to Joelene Moodley, the acting principal executive officer, in an early-November email to staff.

Why the email came from her, not from Renosi Mokate as chair of the GEPF board, isn't clear. It could be that Moodley had sent the email without board authority, possibly indicating that the dismissal isn't cut and dried. There has so far been neither a media release nor an announcement on the GEPF website.

No reasons for the dismissal, if there has indeed been a dismissal, were contained in the email. It is therefore impossible for anybody outside the GEPF board, or not party to the internal disciplinary inquiry, to know what might have occasioned such a severe outcome.

It is also impossible for Oliphant publicly to defend his reputation, already damaged by his yearlong suspension and exacerbated by his purported dismissal, unless there is to be a costly sequel through the courts or a less adversarial basis is found to settle the dispute. Either way, it suggests that the inquiry's record will have to be released.

How else can Oliphant respond? How else for interested parties, like the boards of other funds and companies concerned with governance, to assess the fairness of the outcome against the seriousness of the findings; for that matter, even whether the findings themselves can withstand scrutiny? Was there corruption?

Was there enrichment? What sort of money was involved? Could the alleged procedural transgressions have been handled differently, with less fuss and less expense both to the GEPF and to Oliphant personally?

Perhaps it's significant that, in the recentlypublished GEPF annual report for the year to end-March 2014, the independent auditors identify no irregularities. In fact, they've given the financials a clean bill of health.

Moreover, although the report was signed off on October 6 by Mokate as the new GEPF chair, she offers no information on the outcome of the disciplinary inquiry. She mentions only that the "process" is "ongoing".

But if the actual findings had already been made, material development subsequent to the financial year-end; unless, after all this time, the board had still to take a view on whether to accept the inquiry's recommendations.

Should it do so, the option of appeal processes surely remains. Then the largest pension fund in the land will remain for even longer without a chief executive.

This is all rather convoluted for an institution that insists on the highest governance standards at companies where it's significantly invested. Paradoxically too, such insistence was largely spearheaded by Oliphant.

Moodley . . . quick communication

TT asked the GEPF on October 20:

  • More or less when might a decision be expected on whether John Oliphant's suspension will be lifted or whether he will leave the GEPF?
  • Has the disciplinary inquiry delivered a judgment? If so, when was it delivered? If not, when is it expected? u Will this judgment be made available to GEPF members or placed by the GEPF in the public domain? If not, why not?
  • What is the approximate cost to the GEPF of the inquiry, inclusive of the forensic investigation and legal proceedings?
  • When will the 2014 annual report of the GEPF be published? Will it cover the matters referred to above and, if not, why not?

Mokate replied on October 27:
"The GEPF's board of trustees is scheduled to meet on Friday 31 October and the disciplinary hearing will be on the agenda.

"The matter of the costs involved in the disciplinary committee has been dealt with before. As any other major corporation, state-owned corporation or institution, GEPF accounts for contingent liabilities. GEPF is an internationallyrecognised and renowned pension fund that has in place stringent checks and balances to ensure its members and pensioners are protected.

"This disciplinary matter specifically arose out of issues related to financial responsibility and transparency. The implication that such matters of transparency and good governance should now be short-changed for financial reasons would subvert that process and go against the integrity and values of the GEPF.

"GEPF has a duty to apply good governance throughout the organisation and is bound to follow through when breaches of such a nature appear to have occurred. Due process must be followed, and this includes the rights of any one deemed to have transgressed the fund's procedures."

So now we know. Or don't.

• This article was first published by Moneyweb on Nov 6.