/ 9 August 2009

SAHRC defies Parly call for inquiry

The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has defied a request from the office of the speaker of Parliament for an investigation of the commission’s secretariat, headed by chief executive Tseliso Thipanyane.

‘The commission’s response is aimed at furthering the effectiveness and independence of the organisation and not simply to respond to anonymous complaints referred to us,” said SAHRC chairperson Jody Kollapen.

Kollapen told the Mail & Guardian that he had received a letter from Parliament’s deputy speaker, Nomaindia Mfeketo, calling for an investigation of the efficacy of the commission’s complaints handling system and a review of its operational structures and the technology systems used to procure information.

Questions about these elements were raised in a confidential letter to the speaker’s office by anonymous informers and current staff members of the commission.

Kollapen and executive director in the speaker’s office, Peter Lebeko, confirmed Mfeketo’s letter, but denied that it specifically targeted Thipanyane. The chief executive refused to speak to the M&G, referring all questions to Kollapen.

‘The speaker of Parliament has requested that we invest igate allegations raised in complaints by some anonymous informers and current staff members,” Kollapen said.

He told the speaker that there was no need for an investigation, as the issues raised in Mfeketo’s letter were already being addressed in a report that commissioners were preparing for the end of their term of office. ‘The information obtained as part of the preparation of the closure report will be helpful in assessing some of the matters contained in the complaint , ” Kollapen said.

Six anonymous employees of the commission wrote a confidential letter to Speaker Max Sisulu’s office in May, requesting intervention. The letter, leaked to the M&G, called for the commission to be probed before new commissioners are appointed.

The current commissioners’ term expires at the end of September. The letter alleged financial mismanagement and lack of accountability at the commission, low staff morale, high staff turn turnover and low productivity, which the writers blamed on the ‘ineffective” management style of both Kollapen and Thipanyane.

Kollapen said that while the complaints fell within the remit of the secretariat, Thipanyane’s division, the commission wanted to look holistically at its ‘functionality and effectiveness” and determine the veracity of the complaints.

The M&G has learned from an insider at the commission that Thipanyane wrote to Kollapen questioning the legality of the deputy speaker’s request for an investigation.

Thipanyane had raised issues of accountability with the National Assembly and the need to safeguard the independence of the commission, but agreed to participate in processes aimed at improving its effectiveness.

A second commission source said Thipanyane was unhappy that Mfeketo wanted the investigation to focus on issues from as early as 1996, when he was not in charge.

The Constitution states that the commission is an independent body that accounts only to the Constitution and to Parliament through Parliament’s justice committee.

Lebeko said there was nothing sinister about Mfeketo’s letter, as the commission is accountable to the National Assembly, of which the speaker is head. The office had a duty to respond to any correspondence sent to it.

Thipanyane has two more years of his contract to serve and has been touted as Kollapen’s possible successor.