Fresh twist in pension fund war

Fresh twist in pension fund war

MASERU-THERE is a new twist in the fierce battle over who manages the pension fund for the government’s nearly 35 000 employees.
The contract for the administrator of the Public Officers Defined Contribution Pension Fund (PODCPF) has been mired in an intense corporate battle between NBC Lesotho and Akani Retirement Fund Administrators for the past four months.

Four of the PODCPF’s nine trustees are fighting to block NBC Lesotho’s reappointment as administrator of the M7 billion-Fund.
In March the board reappointed NBC Lesotho for another three-year term but the contract could not be effected after an association of pensioners challenged it in the High Court.

But in a new twist the association’s case seems to have achieved the opposite of what it intended, at least in the short term.
thepost can now reveal that circumstances have forced the PODCPF’s trustees, including the four fighting in Akani’s corner, to extend the NBC’s contract which was due to expire at the end of April.

Two weeks ago the trustees extended the NBC Lesotho’s previous contract pending the finalisation of the pensioners’ case.
Thabo Thulo, the PODCPF’s Principal Officer, said the extension was necessary “to avoid a vacuum”.

“The board’s decision to reappoint the NBC Lesotho for another three-year term is still a subject of a court challenge,” Thulo said.

“The board however recognised that the Fund should always have an administrator so the previous contract was extended indefinitely pending finalisation of the case.”

He said “it is important for the members of the pension Fund to know that operations have not been affected by the matter”.
“There is therefore no reason to panic,” he added.
The pensioners’ case is yet to be heard.

Meanwhile, the battle between NBC and Akani Retirement Fund Administrators, which has played out in Lesotho and South Africa, rages on.
In South Africa the animosity between NBC Holdings – the sister company to NBC Lesotho – and Akani appears to have escalated in recent weeks.
The companies are already engaged in long-drawn legal battles in South Africa over the contract to manage Chemical Industries National Provident Fund (CINPF) which has 21 600 members and is estimated to be worth M8 billion.

In that case the NBC and some CINPF members argue that Akani used unsavory means and violated the CINPF’s rules to win the contract.
In court papers the NBC alleges Neighbour Funeral Services, a company linked to Akani, made payments to its former employees to instigate the CINPF to terminate its contract and appoint Akani.

There is an interim court order blocking Akani’s appointment and allowing the NBC to remain as CINPF’s administrator pending finalisation of the case in July this year.

In the most recent case Akani brought a defamation case against NBC Holding and NBC Lesotho over allegations made in both Lesotho and South Africa.

Akani’s main gripe is over the NBC Holdings’ letter updating CINPF employers about the court battle between the two companies.
Akani was irked by the NBC’s statement that the judgement said there was “strong evidence of corruption” against it. This statement, it said, was a misrepresentation of the interim order and gave an impression that the court had made conclusive findings on the corruption allegations raised by NBC.

Akani also took issue with the allegations made by a senior NBC Lesotho official in a local newspaper. The officials told the newspaper that Akani was corrupt and had its licence revoked in eSwatini.
Akani said these statements were false and defamatory while the NBC insisted that the allegations were true and it had correctly interpreted the interim order. It also argued that the South African court had no jurisdiction to deal with an incident in Lesotho.

This week Justice Roland Sutherland of the South African High Court found in Akani’s favour, saying the NBC’s allegations of corruption were defamatory because the court is yet to rule on them in the ongoing case.
Justice Sutherland ordered the NBC to correct those statements but did not impose any damages.

But Akani’s victory in the defamation case appears to have come at some cost.
This is because in seeking to defend itself against the lawsuit the NBC made further allegations of corruption against Akani.

For instance, it told the court that it had bank statements showing that Neighbour Funeral Services made further payments to several senior members of the CINPF management, board of trustees and unions.
The officials who are named in court papers cannot be identified because they are yet to respond to the allegations.

The NBC also said there were payments of about R170 000 to its three former employees.
Akani has denied the allegations, insisting that the payments were for work done or insurance payouts.

Staff Reporter

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