JOURNALISTS in South Africa are increasingly becoming a doormat for politicians, who treat us with disdain. It has become fashionable these days for government ministers to call a press conference and then cancel it at the last minute, without giving a reason or an apology.

Or a minister calls a press conference and they take their time to pitch up and not give a reason for keeping the media waiting. Perhaps it is taken for granted that our ministers are so newsworthy that journalists will always cancel what they were supposed to do after the press conference. Or every word our ministers utter resonates not around South Africa but around the world.

Take for instance, the press conference by Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu on Tuesday.

The press conference was hastily called at 10am for midday. This was about the potential lay-offs at Anglo American Platinum. The press conference could easily have been scheduled for yesterday because what Shabangu had to say was certainly still relevant.

Having driven at breakneck speed to get there, journalists were made to wait, and wait, in a conference room, with the department’s officials not bothering to explain where Shabangu was.

After one-hour-and-thirty-minutes, an official announced that the press conference had been moved to Shabangu’s boardroom, and off the media contingent went.

Again, we had to wait for Shabangu to appear. Eventually, when she turned up she offered no excuse and said instead: “Happy New Year.”

ZAC talks

The dust seems to have settled at the Zululand Anthracite Colliery (ZAC) after management reached an agreement with unions over the issue of special dividend payments. None of the parties wanted to share the details of the agreement, but they all hoped that workers would come to the party so everyone could move on.

If workers sign the agreement it could clear the way for a ZAC sale. However, the mine has a bumpy road ahead.

The mine, which is owned by Rio Tinto through Riversdale Holdings, needs to get its house in order before Forbes & Manhattan Coal takes over the mine. Forbes is buying Riversdale Holdings for R440 million.

The sale has already received opposition from one of the black economic empowerment (BEE) shareholders, Siyakhula Sonke Corporation (SSC).

SSC forms part of the Maweni Mining Consortium, which comprises the Community Investment Trust and the ZAC Employee Trust. Rio Tinto will need all these shareholders and others to help them conclude the deal.

The agreement that was reached yesterday will allow Rio Tinto to address the Community Investment Trust problems, which are plagued by unfortunate historical legacies. Not so long ago, the mine faced a number of protests from the Okhukho community, which claimed they had not in any way benefited from the BEE structure.

Rio Tinto was faced with the workers’ strike, while trying to address the community trust issues, where it needed to set up a proper trust that would receive the dividends on behalf of the community.

The company is also trying to address the safety and environment issues around the area of Okhukho.

I would say Rio Tinto is cleaning up in preparation for the new owner. page 17

New Financial Services Bill

The Treasury is going all out to ensure that the country’s working population retires comfortably when the time comes, and with all its regulation interventions, the pension funds industry promises to look very different in the near future.

Proposals that seek to prevent you from cashing out your funds before retirement, the review of tax incentives for retirement, as well as the changes proposed in the Financial Services Laws General Amendment Bill of 2012, reaffirm the government’s commitment in this regard.

Rosemary Hunter, a partner at law firm Bowman Gilfillan, unpacked some changes that might be affected by the Financial Services Bill, which was tabled in Parliament in September.

Hunter, who submitted comments on the bill, highlighted one proposed amendment which if adopted would see employers who have been avoiding paying pension fund contributions caught and punished.

Essentially, the proposed amendment is that the Pension Funds Act must be amended to make an employer’s failure to pay contributions a criminal offence.

Employers who are found guilty may be fined up to R10 million and serve a term of imprisonment, according to the proposal.

Before 2007, not making the required contributions to a retirement fund by the employer and his employees was a criminal offence, but in 2007 it was decriminalised.

It was resolved that the registrar of pension funds would refer non-payment cases to the enforcement committee of the Financial Services Board. However, no non-payment cases have been referred to the enforcement committee.

But as Hunter points out: “The threat of criminal sanction did not prove to be a particularly effective inducement to compliance before 2007, and there is no reason to believe that it will be more effective now.”

Another proposed amendment stipulates the people who are personally liable for compliance. Hunter said if the employer was a company, its controlling shareholder and each of its executive directors who are regularly involved in the management of the overall financial affairs would have personal liability.

If the employer is a close corporation, liability will reside with each member who controls or is regularly involved in its overall financial affairs.

The bill is now with the National Assembly’s standing committee on finance and we just have to be patient to see if these changes will be adopted.

Edited by Samantha Enslin. With contributions from Wiseman Khuzwayo, Nompumelelo Magwaza and Londiwe Buthelezi.