Vigilance needed with pensioners' money - GEPF chair

Cape Town – The board of the Government Employees Pension Fund (GEPF) needs to be vigilant as there appears to be a temptation to view it as a source of funding for the fiscus, the fund’s chairperson Renosi Mokate told Parliament on Tuesday.

The GEPF and the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) briefed members of the standing committee on finance on their annual reports and investment performance for the 2016/17 financial year.

During question time, Democratic Alliance (DA) spokesperson on finance David Maynier asked Mokate if the GEPF board was concerned about allegations of state capture at the PIC and attempts to use pensioner’s money to give lifelines to ailing state-owned enterprises.

Mokate initially evaded the question but committee chairperson Yunus Carrim (ANC) intervened and gave Mokate time to overthink her answer and respond later in the afternoon.

"With regard to allegations about the PIC – we as the GEPF board are looking at potential scenarios, including attempts to illegally access GEPF members’ funds. We are trying to determine what we should do to mitigate perceived risks," Mokate said.

READ: PIC, GEPF face pressure to invest in ailing SOEs - researcher 

The issue goes beyond the "heightened state capture concerns", she added, in that there is a "temptation" to see the GEPF as a source of funding for the fiscus.

"They forget every penny belongs to members (of the GEPF). We also ask the broader public to be vigilant about safeguarding these funds," Mokate said.

Deputy Minister’s chairmanship questioned

She added her voice to that of trade union federation members who earlier during the briefing insisted that the deputy minister of finance be removed as chairperson of the PIC.

Trade union federations which presented earlier on Tuesday on proposed changes to the structure of the PIC all agreed that the deputy minister of finance should no longer have chairmanship of the PIC and that the position should be filled by an independent expert.

It has been the practice that the deputy finance minister acts as chairperson of the PIC. Sfiso Buthelezi replaced former finance deputy Mcebisi Jonas as the PIC chairperson when he was appointed to President Jacob Zuma’s cabinet as the new Deputy Minister of Finance on March 30.

Mokate stressed that the GEPF’s reservations about the deputy finance minister’s fitness to hold the chairmanship of the PIC is not about "the individual".

READ: DA wants Treasury to reveal findings on Deputy Finmin

"But it creates confusion and it undermines the cheques and balances."

Yunus Carrim (ANC), committee chairperson, earlier asked trade union representatives whether it's wise to insist on removing the finance deputy as PIC chairperson. The scepticism about the deputy minister chairing the PIC is understandable, Carrim said, but his presence as a member of the executive could also be beneficial. 

Zwelinzima Vavi, who made a representation on behalf of the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) said his federation insists on having Buthelezi removed as PIC chair. 

"We have seen how trusted individuals turn into different animals where there’s smoney involved," Vavi said. "Not one other state-owned enterprise is chaired by a minister, but by professionals with particular skills. So, please remove the deputy minister as chairperson," Vavi said. 

News24 investigative journalist Pieter-Louis Myburgh earlier reported that Buthelezi and his brother were allegedly beneficiaries of companies that secured contracts worth at least R150m from the Passenger Rail Agency (Prasa) and some of its suppliers while Buthelezi was board chairperson of the state-owned rail operator.

Buthelezi denied the allegations. 

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