/ 2 February 2012

Gambling board digs in its heels

Gambling Board Digs In Its Heels

The Gauteng Gambling Board has turned to the office of public protector Thuli Madonsela to resolve the impasse between it and the MEC for economic development, Qedani Mahlangu, over the relocation of its offices from Johannesburg’s northern suburbs to the city centre.

The decision to relocate the board to the city centre was taken by Mahlangu in October last year.

Mahlangu fired the entire board — including chairperson Prince Mafojane and acting chief executive Ndanduleni Makhari — two weeks ago after they defied her orders to relocate from Bramley to 124 Main Street, in downtown Johannesburg.

The board took Mahlangu to court to challenge her decision, but the South Gauteng High Court has since ordered the two parties to resolve their dispute internally before approaching the courts in terms of the Inter-Governmental Framework Act of 1995.

The Gauteng Gambling Board regulates casino gaming, betting on horse racing and sports events as well as bingo in the province.

Mahlangu, in her affidavit, argued that her department wanted to house all its agencies in one building. She said that as MEC she was empowered by law to instruct the ­agencies that fell under her portfolio to adhere to and implement operational decisions without consulting the board.

However, in a signed memorandum seen by the Mail & Guardian this week, the staff have asked the public protector to investigate “the legality of the MEC’s unilateral instruction of the board to relocate; the powers of the MEC in respect of the dismissal of the board members; the relationship between African Romance and the MEC; and the cost implications of the intended move and the effect on public funds”.

The staff also indicated that they were strongly opposed to the intended move because Mahlangu took a unilateral decision and failed to consult the board.

In court papers, the board argues that the move, intended to make way for Wakegem-African Romance, a diamond beneficiation company, was unlawful, unconstitutional and a wasteful expenditure.

It has told the court that Mahlangu simply ordered the move without first discussing its concerns. It further argued that it had been hardly two years since it was moved to Bramley from Centurion near Pretoria. It also said that Mahlangu’s decision could be in contravention of the Public Finance Management Act and treasury regulations.

On Thursday Mahlangu’s spokesperson, Mandla Sidu, said the board and its staff had the right to approach the office of the public protector. He said the relocation of the board followed a decision, approved by the provincial executive council, to house all agencies of the Gauteng economic development department in one building.

“Accordingly, 124 Main Street building was identified as a suitable building for this exercise. Among other things, the move is aimed at creating ‘one-stop services’ for all the department’s agencies, reducing costs and facilitating ease of access for the public. It affects all the agencies of the department,” said Sidu.

He dismissed questions about the relationship between Mahlangu and Wakegem-African Romance, which is owned by Moohseen Moosa, the younger brother of former environmental affairs minister Valli Moosa.

“There is nothing untoward about the MEC’s relationship with African Romance. The MEC’s support of African Romance is in accordance with the government’s mineral beneficiation programme to grow the economy and create jobs,” Sidu told the M&G.

Wakegem-African Romance has been a source of controversy in the past few years since the Gauteng government invested R55-million in the company.

Former MEC for economic development Firoz Cachalia was sidelined and finally removed from his portfolio after he tried to recoup the R55-million invested in the company following the auditor general’s report that it was a “wasteful expenditure”.

After opposition from the staff, Mahlangu sent an email to the acting chief executive in November, threatening to fire her if she did not follow her instructions to relocate.

“I sense that you want to use every trick in the book not to move offices,” Mahlangu wrote in the email, which has been seen by the M&G.

“May I suggest that you speed the process of moving before I lose my cool with you.”