Rot in Board of Sheriffs alleged

2011-09-22 00:00

A COURT case against the South African Board of Sheriffs has painted a damning picture of price gouging, mismanagement, threats and a culture of impunity within the body tasked with executing the orders of South Africa’s courts.

So deep is the rot within the organisation that Western Cape High Court Judge Nathan Erasmus resigned as chairperson of the board in January, saying that he had “lost confidence and trust in the integrity of the majority of the appointed members of the board and cannot, as a judge, serve the interests of justice on this board”.

And when the man in charge of the board’s finances questioned its actions, the chairperson accused him of undermining her and bringing the board into disrepute, and urged him to resign.

Now Mahier Tayob, a forensic auditor and chairperson of the board’s financial committee, has launched a court action forcing the board to disclose “maladministration, fraud and misappropriation of funds” in the organisation’s annual report, as is required by law.

Among the alleged abuses detailed in documents before court are:

• The offices of the Sheriffs of Pretoria Central and Johannesburg Central operated with impunity, overcharging the Road Accident Fund by millions while threatening to attach its goods when it queried excessive fees.

• The acting chairperson of the body moved to quash an investigation of misconduct against a sheriff following a complaint lodged in July.

• Board members scheduled meetings in Cape Town to coincide with the Cape Town Jazz Festival, and used sheriffs’ levies to foot the travel bill.

• The board turned a blind eye when it emerged that one of its own members, a sheriff for Pretoria Central, was operating without the legally required Fidelity Fund Certificate, which would render all his actions null and void.

• The board resolved not to act on a damning report by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela for it failing to discipline a sheriff for negligence — after the board had failed to act for nine years. The sheriff’s administrative oversight caused a Gauteng man’s assets to be attached.

Tayob brought an urgent application at the beginning of the month to have a caveat (or warning) inserted in the board’s annual financial statements, as they failed to tell the whole story of the board’s income and expenditure. He also refused to sign off on the board’s financial statements.

The Board of Sheriffs, which is appointed by the justice minister, opposed Tayob’s action, but ultimately agreed to include mention of Tayob’s court action. It also mentioned Erasmus’s resignation in its annual report.

As a result of Tayob’s disclosures to the external auditors the board also received a disclaimer, with the external auditors unable to express an opinion on the financial statements.

Justice Minister Jeff Radebe acknowledged in a letter to Erasmus written in February — also filed before court — that he is “deeply concerned” with Erasmus’s concerns and will “act decisively” to address them.

However, in his keynote address to the annual general meeting of the Board of Sheriffs last Thursday, Radebe expressed support for the board’s chairperson.

He said he was “taken aback to learn that a member of the board had instituted a court action against the board”.

David Bam, the board’s attorney, said the board disputes Tayob’s claims and that many of his allegations are incorrect or untrue.

“All allegations of impropriety and/or wrongdoing are denied,” he said, adding that “a large number of the allegations are highly defamatory” and “were made without good reasons to believe in the veracity thereof”. He said the board members reserved their rights.

“The board is committed to investigating any allegation that may warrant further investigation and is committed to addressing any issue that is found to require action as a result of such … investigations.”

The Witness also approached Erasmus for comment, but had not received any at the time of going to print.

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