/ 17 October 2011

Pension scam probe on hold after key player plays truant

More than a dozen clothing workers belonging to the South African Clothing and Textile Workers Union (Sactwu) piled into the closed inquiry of Canyon Springs Investments 12 in Cape Town on Monday, in anticipation of an appearance by Richard Kawie, the consultant who is alleged to have assisted the flow of R100-million of their pension fund money to the company.

But when Kawie failed to appear there was anger among the clothing workers about his dramatic no-show, as the pension fund money has never been repaid and has disappeared.

Many of the clothing workers knew Kawie personally when he was previously employed by Sactwu as a pension funds organiser, they said.

While Kawie was thought by forensic investigators to have left the country with his family, he was in Cape Town yesterday, the Mail & Guardian has established.

Advocate Msingalhi Mlisano and instructing attorney Bulelani Mbeleni said that they were representing Kawie, and his assistant Spencer Witten, who was also meant to appear on Monday. Both their clients wanted documents relevant to the inquiry to prepare for their appearances, they said.

But the commissioner of the inquiry, Jan Reitz, warned their legal representatives that their clients could face arrest if they did not attend the inquiry by 2.15pm on Monday afternoon, which received murmers of approval from the clothing workers.

Gavin Woodland SC, apearing on behalf of Sactwu, said there was no preperation needed for the inquiry.

“Mr Kawie and Mr Witten have known for a long time that they were due to appear,” he said. “This is simply a transparent attempt to frustrate and delay these proceedings.”

Canyon Springs is co-owned by Deputy Minister of Economic Development Enoch Godongwana, who owns 50% of the shares with his wife Thandiwe in a family trust, while the other half is owned by Kawie and Mohan Patel. Godongwana and his wife have both appeared before the inquiry, but could be recalled to answer further questions.

Mbeleni appeared after the 2.15pm deadline, without Kawie or Witten.

“I did contact Mr Kawie and Mr Witten,” he said. “They instructed me to make an urgent application to the high court against your ruling.”

The commission decided the commissioner’s ruling would stand — for now.

“This is a gross abuse and further attempt at a delay,” said Woodland. “Until there is court order, the inquiry is not suspended.”

Reitz agreed with him, and placed on record that the inquiry commences again on November 7 and 10, and if either Kawie or Witten wished to appear, they could do so on those dates.

Criminal proceedings against Kawie and Witten could proceed as they failed to appear after being subpoenaed to the inquiry.

Meanwhile, clothing workers told the M&G the nightmare was already starting as not all the retirees were receiving all the pension fund money due to them when they retired. Another R260-million of the clothing workers pension fund money was also sunk into struggling property company Pinnacle Point, which was placed under provisional liquidation two weeks ago.

“Some of the provident funds have surplus funds, and they could use those for those retiring now. But not all the provident funds have surplus, so some have retired with only a portion of their money,” they claimed.

More than 20 000 clothing workers have been affected by the loss of the R100-million, and they earn on average R700 a week and contribute about 6.5% of their salaries to the provident fund.

Clothing workers who retire receive a lump sum in provident funds payout. One clothing worker who spoke to the M&G said she expected to take home R50 000 when she retired, which she planned to invest. If the money has been squandered, she could be retiring with nothing, she said.