A CCMA hearing may shed light on a claim that interest-free loans are "common practice" in Parliament, writes Glynnis Underhill.
Details of allegations by Parliament's axed secretary, Zingile Dingani, that there had been a long-standing practice of salary advances to officials at the institution could be revealed in a public-dispute proceeding next year.
Dingani has taken Parliament to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) after he was sacked from his job in September for obtaining an interest-free salary advance of R186 000 to build a security wall at his home.
The transcripts of his closed disciplinary hearing are likely to be used as evidence during his CCMA case and could shine a spotlight on his claims of similar misdemeanours by other officials. His defence at his disciplinary hearing was that there had been a "long-standing practice of salary advances" at Parliament.
Although Nomaindia Mfeketo, the deputy speaker of the National Assembly, announced shortly before his sacking that the disciplinary hearing had been unable to establish the existence of such a policy or common practice with regard to salary advances, a public hearing will allow all the claims to be aired.
Dingani faced a parliamentary disciplinary panel, which recommended that he be fired after he was found guilty of two of nine charges of misconduct relating to the advance.
A team of parliamentary lawyers was present to represent Parliament at the first meeting at the commission's offices in Cape Town last Friday, but commissioner Vicky Smith told the Mail & Guardian that Dingani had no legal representative. "Mr Dingani has chosen to represent himself," she said.
The meeting was not open to the press as it was a pre-arbitration process and evidence would be considered.
Break from negotiations
Later in the morning, Smith said she was asking other members of Parliament's legal team to remove themselves and she was also leaving the room so that Dingani and a senior legal officer could try to reach a settlement without her present. However, Dingani left the room shortly afterwards for a break from negotiations. "There won't be a settlement," a stressed-looking Dingani told the M&G. When she returned from her tea break, Smith pointed to a number of boxes in the room she would now have to study. "There will be an ongoing process to try to reach a settlement," said Smith. "They have asked me to study the transcript of the disciplinary hearing, which will take time."
Although Smith said the matter was likely to resume only in January and would probably then be open to the media, no date has been set for the matter to be heard.
Estelle Randall, spokesperson for Parliament, this week said "neither Parliament nor Mr Dingani raised the prospect of settlement. The case will be heard in January 2013."
After his sacking, Dingani vowed to mount a legal challenge against the recommendation that he be fired and said that he did not agree with the findings of the disciplinary panel.
The man who had stated his intention to turn Parliament into a "beacon of good moral behaviour" and who was the accounting officer for the institution earned R1.8-million a year as secretary.
His dismissal was seen by members of Parliament as sending a strong message that an institution that makes laws and holds others accountable does not tolerate unlawful acts.
Dingani's departure from the parliamentary precinct was abrupt after he was found guilty of misleading the executive about Parliament's policy on salary advances.
ANC chief whip Mathole Motshekga told the National Assembly two months ago that Dingani had asked National Assembly speaker Max Sisulu and National Council of Provinces chairperson Mninwa Mahlangu to approve the advance.
They approved the request on the basis that Dingani had asserted that Parliament's policies provided for salary advances, said Motshekga.
Allegations then emerged that the advance was improper and Dingani was put on special paid leave on April 5 while the matter was being investigated by auditor general Terence Nombembe.
Nombembe recommended disciplinary action against Dingani and the then chief finance officer Leslie Mondo for their involvement in the approval of the advance.
Dingani was later found guilty by his disciplinary panel of misleading the executive authority and contravening the Public Finances Management Act by securing the interest-free loan. Motshekga proposed a motion asking the house to approve Dingani's dismissal with immediate effect. The motion was adopted without any objections.
Mondo was dismissed after being found guilty on a number of charges.