Post office boss ‘on extended leave’ for mismanaging funds

Following allegations of mismanagement of funds, irregular expenditure and a strike that has carried on intermittently for at least three years, the South African Post Office (Sapo) has placed its chief executive on extended leave.

Chris Hlekane became Sapo head in 2012, seven months after the previous group chief executive, Motshoanetsi Lefoka, left by mutual consent [with the board], following a review of Sapo governance process related to corruption allegations. Hlekane was placed on extended leave last Friday (October 3) amid similar allegations.

A recent article in The Star said a draft audit report by firms Deloitte & Touche and Nkonki alleged that the post office had used the employees’ pension fund to pay off an overdraft of R250-million. It also claimed the post office had spent more than R2.1-billion in irregular expenditure in the past financial year and noted that the financial losses resulted from the irregular awarding of tenders.

Sapo also placed its group executive in charge of mail business, Janras Kotsi, on suspension.

‘Kotsi was behind strikes’
The Democratic Alliance welcomed the decision to place Hlekane on extended leave and said Sapo’s inability to commit on steps to end the current strike was a “sad indictment of the organisation”.

The Communications Workers Union (CWU) also welcomed the decision to place Hlekane on special leave and Kotsi on suspension.

In an interview with the M&G, CWU president Clyde Mervin said: “We want the whole executive management to be held accountable and we’re happy our voice has been heard. But this is not enough, we [also] want the telecommunications minister [Siyabonga Cwele] to dissolve the board.”

Mervin said the suspension of Kotsi was especially welcomed, because”he was the one behind the strikes”.

“He was responsible for casuals and he signed agreements with casual workers [not represented] by the unions. How do you give contracts to people with only one year in service before people who’ve been there for 10 years?” asked Mervin.

Last Thursday, during a CWU press conference, Mervin said Kotsi hired 600 casual employees without following due process or human resource criteria. “That’s why Janras Kotsi must be suspended,” he said.

Suspension an internal process
On Monday the M&G called Lungile Lose, Sapo’s head of corporate services and spokesperson, to answer questions relating to Hlekane being placed on special leave and Kotsi’s suspension.

Lose requested an email be sent to him. The following four questions were sent to him:

  •  Why was Hlekane placed on special leave?
  • Was this a result of pressure from the CWU? One of their requirements was that the top executive be fired/suspended or placed on leave.
  • Why was Kotsi suspended?
  • Was this a result of the CWU? The president [Mervin]and general secretary of CWU [Aubrey Tshabalala] said Kotsi should get fired because he was forming his own unions at Sapo.

Lose replied:

  • It is important to note that the chief executive [Hlekane] is currently on extended leave.
  • The suspension has nothing to do with the CWU or any union. The matter is subject to employer-employee relationship and cannot be disclosed to any third party.
  • We cannot disclose this detail, given the fact that it is an employee relations-based internal process.
  • Please refer to the response provided to question 3 above.

Mervin said the CWU had called for Kotsi to be investigated during their stakeholder meeting with the Sapo executive, the board and the ministry of telecommunications and postal services that took place Thursday evening.

“The suspension tells of an investigation. We’ve called for the suspension. The suspension is not by mistake,” said Mervin.

Casual workers let down
At the root of the unrest are allegations that Sapo management failed to honour its undertaking given to workers eight months ago that it would employ casual workers as permanent part-time workers.

Lose told the M&G last week that the post office had entered into too many labour agreements and supplementary contracts with labour unions that it could no longer meet. “This lies at the heart of the strike that has paralysed essential postal services and left customers seething,” he said.

Mervin said: “We had some of these discussions yesterday and our talks collapsed. We are meeting again today.

“The appointment of Mlu [Mathonsi] [as acting Sapo chief executive] will bring stability. Maybe he is the relevant person to stabilise an unstable organisation, which is in ICU. “We will give him support,” said Mervin.

Mathonsi’s appointment was finalised by Cwele on Monday.

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