Council attaches pension of former manager over ‘fraud’

uMgungundlovu District Municipality logo.

uMgungundlovu District Municipality logo.

Published Dec 3, 2023


Durban — Unethical behaviour and dishonesty at work could cost a former manager at the Umgungundlovu District Municipality a portion of his pension after he was allegedly found to have “defrauded” the municipality.

Msawakhe Phindakuphi Johannes Bhengu is awaiting the outcome of litigation brought against him by the municipality to recoup more than R400 000 alleged to have been stolen by inflating his travel allowance.

Bengu was the human resources manager since 2007 and was fired last year.

This was after the municipality’s internal auditors found that he and other colleagues had allegedly abused the travel allowance system. The municipality recently won a case in the Pietermaritzburg High Court to force the KwaZulu-Natal Joint Municipal Pension Fund (KZNMPF), which kept Bhengu’s and others’ pension funds, to hold an amount of R416 213 from his payout pending the outcome of a civil claim for financial damages the municipality suffered as a result of his misconduct.

The court’s recent ruling was an enforcement of its interim interdict which was issued in June last year against the release of the funds by the KZNMPF.

Bhengu, who could not be reached for comment, had previously denied defrauding the municipality.

The municipality’s spokesperson, Brian Zuma, declined to answer questions.

“After consultation with the legal department, we are unable to comment as the matter is sub judice,” said Zuma.

The municipality alleged that Bhengu and other employees claimed huge amounts of money by manipulating the system.

The court papers did not elaborate how Bhengu and his colleagues abused the travel allowances and how many others were involved in the misconduct.

After the internal auditors discovered the wrongdoings, the municipality came up with a new policy which made it difficult to manipulate the system.

The implicated employees approached the Labour Court on an urgent basis to force the municipality to return to the old system, claiming that the new system was unilaterally changing their employment terms and conditions.

But the court dismissed their application in October 2021.

The South African Municipal Workers’ Union and the Independent Municipal and Allied Trade Union also protested against the new travel allowance system.

In November 2021 the municipality instituted disciplinary action against the group of allegedly corrupt employees with Bhengu being charged with 10 counts of “gross dishonesty, gross misconduct, and gross dereliction of duty”, among others.

He was found guilty on eight counts in February last year and dismissed the following month.

During the disciplinary hearing, it was established that Bhengu had unduly benefited from an amount of R416 213.82 through abusing travel allowances.

Bhengu told the court that he wanted the KZNMPF to release his pension funds to him so that he could use it to pay legal fees to challenge his dismissal and defend himself against allegations of overcharging the car allowance system, which caused the district to suffer financial damages through his “dishonesty or misconduct”, which he had denied.

Sunday Tribune