/ 14 May 2012

Minister: I didn’t ‘fire’ consumer watchdog boss in a job advert

Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies attends a session at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies attends a session at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies hit back on Monday at allegations that his department had effectively fired outspoken National Consumer Commissioner (NCC) Mamodupi Mohlala-Mulaudzi by advertising her job after she butted heads with the department’s director general Lionel October.

Several weekend media reports revealed that the department advertised Mohlala-Mulaudzi’s position – allegedly without consulting her – after she laid a complaint with the public protector against October.

But both the ministry and the department denied any abuse of power.

“Even if we were dealing with the world’s best competition commissioner, I would have been unhappy that we give someone a five-year contract without an interview process or competition for the position,” Davies told journalists in Cape Town.

Mohlala-Mulaudzi was employed at the NCC in November 2010 as part of a settlement brokered by the department of public service and administration. The deal was reached after a breakdown in the relationship between herself and former communications minister Siphiwe Nyanda which saw her axed from her position as director general.

According to the department, her employment contract as commissioner was for the duration of her term as director general, which ends on September 3 2012.

But Mohlala-Mulaudzi has taken the department to the Labour Court, arguing that she should have been offered the option to renew her contract for a further five years.

“Nobody says it should not be an open process but it cannot be at the expense of my contractual rights,” she told the Mail & Guardian.

Continued negotiation
She was willing, she said, to continue negotiations and discussions with the department regarding the matter.

But a visibly agitated Davies was adamant that the department wanted an open interview process to fill the position and that it was not obliged to employ her for the next five years. The department had made it clear she could reapply for the job, he said.

Davies added both he and October would recuse themselves from any panel tasked with interviewing her, given the current state of their relationship.

He also denied that she was being targeted for her take up of consumer complaints that included the City of Johannesburg following its billing crisis as well as high profile cases in the private sector.

The trade and industry department has controversially exempted local government authorities from the auspices of the National Consumer Act. Davies said this was extended to medium to low-capacity municipalities because government felt the role of the NCC was to work with consumers and the public on matters in the “commercial space”.

Mohlala-Mulaudzi, during her term, also earned the ire of the department by publicly complaining about the commission’s budget constraints.

Serious concerns
In a letter to the public protector, allegations included that Mohlala-Mulaudzi was not granted control of the commission’s finances despite being its designated accounting officer, procurement was done without her knowledge or approval and that the department interfered in human resources management issues after a group of employees, seconded to the commission, requested transfers back to the department.

Davies was quick to point out that Mohlala-Mulaudzi’s complaint to the public protector came after she was notified, in February, of the decision not to automatically renew the contract.

In its statement the department said, in response to issues of funding, that the budgetary process required the NCC to submit requests annually to the national treasury.

There were serious concerns regarding the financial management as indicated by auditor general Terence Nombembe, the department said. These were notably in two areas indicating intervention was needed in implementing controls over daily and monthly processing and reconciling transactions, as well as the preparation of regular accurate and complete financial performance reports.

But Mohlala-Mulaudzi said that the in the latest quarterly report the auditor general’s office had given the NCC a clean bill of health.

Davies said that the NCC had also failed to cooperate with forensic investigations into the human resource management affairs at the NCC.

But Mohlala-Mulaudzi denied this and said that at no stage had the NCC been unwilling to aid investigators. She said there had been further developments since the complaint was laid with the public protector and these issues now formed part of that investigation.