/ 26 February 2010

Prisons DG fights back

Axed prisons boss Xoliswa Sibeko, who was cleared of wrongdoing in a disciplinary hearing, is fighting the termination of her contract by government months before her term officially comes to an end.

Sibeko received a letter from Public Service and Administration Minister Richard Baloyi on Friday last week, informing her that Monday would be her last day at work and that she would be paid out the remainder of her contract. On Sunday her R,.3-million-a-year job was advertised.

Now Sibeko is fighting back after threatening Baloyi and Correctional Services Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula with legal action.

Sibeko’s lawyer wrote to the ministers, warning them that they were acting unlawfully and asking them to withdraw the termination of her contract.

“The state attorney reported back that in light of the correspondence between us, the departments were willing to discuss the matter on Friday [February 26],” Sibeko’s lawyer, Attie Tredoux, told the Mail & Guardian.

Mapisa-Nqakula’s spokesperson, Sonwabo Mbananga, said it was incorrect to suggest that Sibeko’s contract was cancelled: “The contract was re-determined and paid out. The specific delegation relating to the re-determination of contracts of directors general has been delegated [by the president in 1999] to the minister of public service and administration.”

Mbananga confirmed that Sibeko’s contract “remains subject to a possible legal challenge by [Sibeko]”.

A source sympathetic to Sibeko told the M&G that Baloyi’s letter came down to “nothing else than a dismissal”.

“The letter goes against labour law and the Constitution. It is wholly unprocedural. In terms of her contract the minister was supposed to give her [Sibeko] three months’ notice. This didn’t happen,” the source said.

Apparently there is also a dispute between Sibeko and the government over when her contract was supposed to have expired. Baloyi said it was August; Sibeko allegedly contended that former prisons minister Ngconde Balfour extended her contract beyond 2011.

If Sibeko goes to court, Mapisa-Nqakula might have to explain her attitude towards Sibeko’s disciplinary hearing — the recommendations of which she effectively ignored by requesting that her contract be “re-determined”.

Sibeko was suspended in July last year after reports that the department was paying R34 000 a month for her to stay in Woodhill, a luxury golf estate in Pretoria.

After receiving a report from Baloyi’s department in August last year, Mapisa-Nqakula told Parliament’s correctional services portfolio committee that the report “was not favourable” to Sibeko.

In November the minister told the committee Sibeko’s legal team was playing “tricks” and that it had prolonged her disciplinary hearing. According to Sapa she also said: “Whether this one [Sibeko] comes back or not is another matter; we need another commissioner.”

Yet when senior advocate Paul Kennedy heard the matter in December, he cleared Sibeko of all charges. Kennedy found that Balfour approved Sibeko’s accommodation.

Immediately after being cleared, Mapisa-Nqakula extended Sibeko’s special leave to study Kennedy’s ruling. In this time she contacted Baloyi and, according to The Sunday Independent, told him that the relationship between Sibeko and herself had irretrievably broken down.

The M&G asked Mapisa-Nqakula whether her decision to fire Sibeko after a disciplinary hearing had cleared her didn’t indicate a disregard for corporate governance.

She did not respond to this question.