Parliament’s finance chief dismissed

Parliament’s chief financial officer, Harry Charlton, has got the chop after an internal disciplinary hearing found him guilty of a range of charges, including the illegal procurement of goods and services with a value greater than R750 000 without the authority of the secretary to Parliament.

The announcement was made at Parliament on Friday by the secretary to Parliament, Zingile Dingani.

The chairperson of the hearing, North West legislature secretary Dr Baba Schalk, presented his ruling to Dingani on January 10, finding Charlton guilty “on a balance of probabilities”. Dingani recommended the immediate dismissal of Charlton.

Travelgate

Dingani said the dismissal had nothing to do with Charlton being a whistle-blower regarding Parliament’s “Travelgate” saga.

“He was not the whistle-blower,” said the secretary.

Pressed by journalists whether he had ever had an altercation about the Travelgate saga with Charlton, Dingani said the issues had nothing to do with the charges proffered. When again pressed whether there had been any disagreement over Travelgate — involving the multimillion-rand misuse of travel vouchers by MPs — Dingani repeated this stance.

Asked whether Charlton — who was suspended from duty in November last year — had been given adequate legal representation at his hearing, Dingani said that he was entitled only in terms of parliamentary rules to having “a member of staff” or a shop steward to assist him. He was not allowed legal representation.

“Internal procedures do not allow representation in an internal hearing by legally trained people or active lawyers who are practising.”

Asked specifically which companies or entities were involved in providing the allegedly illegal services to Charlton, Dingani referred only to services provided to the financial manager’s office and “transversal systems” apparently applying to computer systems used by Parliament’s accountants.

Prosecution

It is not clear from the documents released to the media whether Charlton had benefited personally. However, Dingani said he will be taking the matter up with the National Prosecuting Authority to determine whether Charlton will be prosecuted. Dingani promised to go “all the way” to ensure that the matter is prosecuted “to the end”.

Dingani indicated that Parliament had tried to deliver its decision to dismiss Charlton to him, but he had not been at home on Friday.

In a written statement provided at the press conference, Dingani said the accountancy profession “has a code of conduct and requires that a chatted [chartered, sic] accountant acquiring information in the course of professional services shall neither use nor appear to use that information for personal advantage or for the advantage of a third party”.

“The evidence presented in this case seems to reveal that the employee’s trust relationship not only with the secretary to Parliament but also with the senior management of the institution has irretrievably broken down. The continued employment of the employee would coil [cause, sic] mistrust, dishonesty, [and] nefarious intent, and above all chaos will reign into [in] the management of parliament affairs [sic].”

One of the charges for which Charlton was found guilty referred to him allegedly making “racist and derogatory remarks”. Dingani said he had referred to parliamentary staff as “a bunch of monkeys”. This reportedly took place on November 18 last year at Parliament.

Suspension

In November last year, the Mail & Guardian reported that Charlton had been abruptly suspended from his post, causing bewilderment and suspicion among parliamentary staff, MPs and opposition parties.

Lionel Klaasen, who headed the institutional support division of the parliamentary service, had replaced Charlton on an acting basis.

No detailed reasons were provided at the time by Parliament for moving against Charlton, or for doing it in a fashion that suggested evidence needed to be protected from interference, but Dingani had said there were “serious allegations” against Charlton.

Some in Parliament, and other sources sympathetic to Charlton, said they could not believe that. He had been under intense political pressure, they argued, over his role in exposing the R24-million travel-voucher scam, which had caused serious embarrassment to Parliament and individual politicians.

Charlton was the first to reveal to the then speaker, Frene Ginwala, and then secretary of Parliament, Sindiso Mfenyana, that members and travel agents appeared to be ripping off the legislature, and he led the initial investigation that resulted in the National Prosecuting Authority being brought in.

Charlton’s backers believed the suddenness of the suspension, the way he was “frogmarched” out of Parliament, the apparent leaking of the news, and the fact that at least one of the accused travel agents had been informed almost immediately, indicated a campaign to discredit him, the M&G said.

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