Doubts cast on Kopanong’s 2018 pension Hail Mary

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The legitimacy of Kopanong Local Municipality’s successful last-minute block of an auction of the municipality’s assets in 2018 is being challenged in court proceedings in the Free State today.

The Municipal Workers’ Retirement Fund, formerly known as the South African Municipal Workers’ (Samwu) Union National Provident Fund, represented by Advocates Pieter van den Berg SC and Hannine Drake, has today taken the Bloemfontein High Court order that blocked an auction of the cash-strapped municipality’s assets in November 2018 up on a full-bench judicial review.

Kopanong allegedly owes the retirement fund over R2 million in contributions, despite making the deductions from employees’ salaries monthly. OFM News’ Olebogeng Motse reports it has been revealed in proceedings thus far that the municipality has been defaulting on payments to the third party in question since 2015.

A series of questions posed by Judge Johannes Daffue, who has been very vocal in proceedings, reveals that Kopanong’s Hail Mary was granted not because that was the relief they sought in their November application, but as a result of a slip of the tongue from the municipality’s legal counsel Andre Burger.

According to Burger, Kopanong initially sought interim relief pending finalisation of the matter in February 2019, however, a demand made in the “heat of the moment” by Burger regarding the finalisation of the payment plan led to what Daffue refers to as the “wrong” judgment. Van Den Berg argues the order as it stands enables the municipality to cherry-pick which creditors to pay, prejudicing his clients. He asks that the order as it stands to be set aside.

Burger, however, wants the matter to be referred back, as opposed to it being set aside, despite acknowledging the mistake on his part. He maintains the order was in its essence granted on the merits of their initial case.

Daffue does ask why Burger, assisted by Dustin Thompson, did not abandon the order granted on 8 November 2018 upon realising it wasn’t the order they asked for. Kopanong has been accused of defrauding its workers in third party contributions to the tune of close to R80 million, making today’s court case just the tip of the iceberg.

OFM News/Olebogeng Motse