Seriti's 'family ties' tangle office politics
The troubles of the chairperson of the arms procurement commission, Judge Willie Seriti, are mounting.
The Mail & Guardian has been leaked a letter showing that his executive assistant, Maureen Thompson, has approached the general public service bargaining council seeking arbitration after she tried to withdraw her resignation.
Although the details of why she quit her job could normally be dismissed as office politics, in this case there is a subtle difference.
The person who allegedly played a central role in Thompson quitting her job is Samkelo Hlatshwayo, the officer manager of the commission, who apparently wields considerable power. Several sources claim Hlatshwayo is related by marriage to Seriti because she is his wife's niece.
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In response to questions from the M&G, the commission at first claimed "not to be aware of the alleged relationship between Ms Hlatshwayo and Judge Seriti's wife". But last week the commission responded to further questions about Hlatshwayo, after one of its senior legal investigators, Mokgale Norman Moabi, claimed in a bombshell resignation letter that the administrative wing of the commission was "managed by extended family relationships".
William Baloyi, the commission spokesperson, described the allegation as "false", but this time said the commision would not comment on "private matters" relating to Hlatshwayo.
In her three-page letter, headed "Notice of withdrawal of resignation", Thompson told how she had been threatened by a knife-wielding man through the window of her car while on her way to work. The man grabbed her cellphone. On her arrival at work, she said Seriti had agreed she should immediately request a driver and vehicle to take her to a Pretoria Central police station to report the crime.
"Samkelo told me in no uncertain terms that it was impossible for Tumelo [a driver] to take me anywhere as the commission's vehicle had to go to Sandton," she wrote.
According to Thompson's letter, she had again sought the help of Seriti to back her up, but he had allegedly said: "If Samkelo says the vehicle should go to Sandton, then that vehicle will go to Sandton."
Thompson said she had been shocked by Seriti's tone, as the pair had a long working relationship. "His demeanor was dismissive and he further inquired if I was drunk." At this point, she said she had decided to go home to recover from the "severe emotional stress" because of both the mugging and the altercation at work. As she left the office, Seriti asked her to leave the commission's laptop.
In her letter, Thompson said she had been served a final warning before this occasion, without being given a verbal or first warning. Owing to her distress and her trauma, and emotional state, she had not been in a fit state to make the decision to resign, she said.
"I hereby request that same should be annulled and withdrawn," wrote Thompson.
She declined to comment when contacted by the M&G. It is believed she is currently trying to negotiate a settlement with the commission.
Baloyi said the withdrawal of her resignation was rejected and confirmed the issue was now before the bargaining council. "The matter is therefore sub judice and we will not answer any questions relating to it," he said.
Seriti has 'cooked his own goose'
Cape Town businessperson Richard Young believes arms procurement commission chairperson Judge Willie Seriti should resign in the wake of startling claims by a former senior legal investigator that he had a secret "second agenda".
Young is one of 11 remaining witnesses due to give evidence in the first round of the commission's public hearings in March. However, he is perturbed by the claims made by Pretoria
lawyer Mokgale Norman Moabi in his resignation letter addressed to Seriti.
The resignation letter was made public after it was leaked to the Mail & Guardian and Beeld. The lawyer claimed that Seriti had a "total obsession" over the control of the flow of information to and from the commission and that there was a clandestine preparation of documents and briefs handed to evidence leaders. Young said no witnesses could feel confident following these revelations.
Moabi has a solid professional background as both a former president of the Law Society in the Northern Provinces and former acting judge in the North Gauteng High Court. After Seriti rebutted his accusations, an unbowed Moabi challenged Seriti to take a lie-detector test, which he said he would also take if Seriti obliged. Seriti asked Moabi to provide evidence for his claims.
Yet Young said that Seriti had "cooked his goose". "The commission must get a new commissioner who we can all trust," he said. "Or it must go."
This is not the first contentious attempt to unravel the corruption behind the 1999 arms procurement deals. In 2001, an investigative team, consisting of the auditor general, the public defender and the national director of public prosecution, found no grounds to believe that the government had acted "illegally or improperly". It was Young who revealed that their initial report had been doctored to state that there was no proof of government "irregularities, fraud or corruption".
Young's company, CCII Systems, lost the tender for the navy's new corvettes. –