Communications DG in trouble in Parliament

It was a morning of high tension for the department of communications's director general Rosey Sekese, who was found to have misled Parliament when she told the portfolio committee on communications at previous meetings that she had signed a performance agreement for the current financial year.

Sekese was called back to Parliament to explain herself after Deputy Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams took the unprecedented stand of alerting the committee that Sekese had not signed her performance agreement for 2012/2013.

The two women sat together in Parliament on Tuesday morning, with Sekese under siege as she faced a grilling from the committee. Sekese said she had drawn up her own performance agreement as director generals and heads of departments often had to do this by drawing on the strategy plan approved by the executive authority.

This performance agreement then had to be authorised by the executive, she said.

"Based on my own knowledge I have of  contract law, it is my view that a performance contract or agreement exists between myself and the minister, residing in two separate documents," Sekese told the committee.

Sekese said the one document was signed by herself, and the other by Communications Minister Dina Pule, but she had taken legal advice from senior counsel that found the two documents made up a valid contract.

However, the communications committee chair Eric Kholwane countered this claim, saying that Sekese had produced two contracts that were not identical in the terms outlined. The one was signed by Sekese and the other was signed by Pule, he agreed, but it did not appear to be a valid contract.

Parliamentary legal adviser Charmaine van der Merwe was called in to resolve the dispute, and she found that the two contracts produced by Sekese differered in content. A contract would only be valid if the director general had affixed her signature to the counter-offer from Pule, she said.

"There must be concensus," said Van Der Merwe. "These must be identical terms and acceptance by way of signature. It is, in my view, not a contract." 

The committee now had the choice of going to the police, and opening up a charge, as the transgression was a crime, she said. The other option, said Van Der Merwe, was for the committee as part of its oversight function, to refer the matter to Pule, and ask her to act on the transgression. 

Butch Steyn, Democratic Alliance MP, pointed out that Pule was the "other party in this whole thing".

"To my mind, on the evidence available, she is equally derelict in her duty, and she has to see the contract is in place," he said.

However, Kholwane said the issues were two different ones, and the issue at hand was to find out if Sekese had misled Parliament, which was a "very serious offence".

After some discussion, it was decided to refer the matter to Pule, and to ask her to report back on the outcome to the committee.

The media were not allowed access to the documents containing the contracts submitted by Sekese to Parliament at the meeting, as they had not been tabled or accepted by the committee, said Kholwane.

The pressing issue of senior managers in the department not signing their performance contracts was first raised by the Auditor General, who flagged the matter and said it was contrary to the public service regulations.

The Mail & Guardian revealed this week that Ndabeni-Abrahams had decided to take action against Sekese after a human resources officer in the communications department tipped her off at a parliamentary meeting two weeks ago that she had still not signed her performance agreement.

The deputy minister said she had raised the issue with Sekese in the tea break. "I called her over and said, "Madam, you don't lie to Parliament. I have discovered you haven't signed your performance agreement. She did not dispute it."

After the meeting had ended, Juli Kilian, Cope MP on the communciations committee said that Pule had been asked to attend the meeting but had said she was busy, and was "shirking her responsibilities".

"How could she tolerate this situation for so long and not do something about it. I think what happened is a clear indication that the communications department is in turmoil," said Kilian.

"It seems that there is a breakdown in communication by the director general and the minister because there is internal strife, and people are not attending to their mandates."

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Glynnis Underhill
Glynnis Underhill has been in journalism for more years than she cares to remember. She loves a good story as much now as she did when she first started. The only difference is today she hopes she is giving something back to the country.

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