/ 16 July 2010

Staff exodus hits communications department

An exodus of senior managers from the communications department has followed Mamodupi Mohlala’s appointment as director general 10 months ago.

Five have resigned, citing her autocratic leadership in their exit interviews. Mohlala has suspended another six for alleged misconduct and corruption.

In the same period the department has spent R1,3-million in legal costs and settlement agreements involving the chief director of human resources, Basani Baloyi, and the chief financial officer, Harry Mathabathe.

Other senior managers suspended by Mohlala include the chief operating officer, Gerda Grabe, the chief director of finance, Mapitso Malaku, the chief director for shareholder management, Sibongile Makopi, and the director of labour relations, Senzo Gumbi.

Mohlala said the suspensions were based on the outcome of a forensic audit which implicated some of the managers in financial and

other irregularities.

She said she has suspended others following complaints of operational incapacity and insubordination.

The Bargaining Council this week ordered that Baloyi, who was dismissed for operational incapacity in March, be reinstated. The department will now have to back-pay Baloyi for the four months of her suspension, totalling R286 680.

But Baloyi did not receive a warm welcome when she reported for duty on Tuesday. Her position had already been filled by Kedi Sekwele, a junior official who was also a main witness in Baloyi’s disciplinary hearing.

Department insiders said ministry advisers were forced to intervene after Mohlala ordered that Baloyi be escorted out of the building.

Baloyi also took the department to the Labour Court for unfair dismissal. In November 2009 the court ruled in her favour and Judge Edwin Molahlehi ordered the department to reinstate Baloyi immediately with full responsibilities.

Ministerial advisers allegedly also asked Mohlala to drop a review of a Labour Court judgment that ordered Baloyi to return to work.

Since Baloyi’s suspension last October, the department has hired three different law firms to handle the matter, at a total cost of R800 000.

At the time Baloyi told the court she was suspended for refusing to approve Mohlala’s salary demands and because she — Baloyi — had forced the director general to take a psychometric test.

In his judgement Molahlehi said the allegations against Baloyi were “widely spread, vague and failed to state when the incidents on which they were based occurred”.

Mohlala told the M&G she was going ahead with the review of the Bargaining Council’s decision, which means that its findings are suspended.

Ntumba Incorporated, the auditors for GNS Risk Advisory Services (now Abalozi), a company owned by the family of the minister of communications, Siphiwe Nyanda, through a trust, was used to investigate Baloyi and Mathabathe.

Ntumba has been paid R800 000 by the department.

The Mail & Guardian revealed earlier this year that GNS was benefiting from millions of rands in government business, including a R55-million tender from Transnet Freight Rail.

A senior official at the department said that Nyanda was not involved in hiring Ntumba and that the appointment was made to discredit him.

Mathabathe, who was suspended in December for making irregular payments of R3-million to a financial advising company, Morgan Stanley, has since settled with the department for a R509 000 payout.

Mohlala served as a councillor for the Independent Communication Authority of South Africa (Icasa) from 2002 until 2007, when she resigned to become the pension funds adjudicator.

During her tenure at Icasa, 11 senior officials resigned, saying they were fed up with the council’s interference in management operations and the regular flouting of the regulator’s policies and procedures.

The M&G reported at the time that exit reports by the officials singled out Mohlala, and one former Icasa staffer insisted she resigned because of the council’s failure to attend to the staff member’s formal complaint against her.

The communications department continues to bleed staff. The most recent senior manager resignations include those of the director of organisational development, Ethel Tjale, the deputy director general of international affairs, Dr Keith Shongwe, the head of IT, Dumisane Otumile, the director of policy implementation, Reneva Fourie, and the chief director for electronics application, Anneke Grond.

Otumile left at the end of June, Fourie left last week after serving a day’s notice and Grond is currently serving notice. A source at the department said that Shongwe refused to serve notice and left 30 minutes after handing in his resignation.

“She manages by fear and no one can take it any more. People feel it’s better to be without a job than work for her,” said the source.

People who have been hired recently to fill senior positions in the department were head-hunted from the Pension Fund Adjudicator (PFA), Mohlala’s former workplace. The chief operations officer is now Makhubalo Ndaba, a former senior assistant adjudicator at PFA.

Mohlala denied that the PFA officials were being head-hunted and said they were interviewed and recommended by an independent panel, of which she was not a member.

Others from the PFA include Kulie Mdhuli (deputy director of secretariat), Lerato Molete (deputy for legal services) and Ledile Makgoale now Mohlala’s personal assistant.

“The department has had clean audits for the last eight years but at the rate things are going, that record will no longer hold,” said a source.

This article was co-produced by amaBhungane, investigators of the M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism, a nonprofit initiative to enhance capacity for investigative journalism in the public interest. www.amabhungane.co.za.