New Energy Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi has moved swiftly to bring her personal touch to the office and has placed its administration firmly in the hands of a former State Security Agency (SSA) official.
Described as “nothing but a purge”, two former employees claimed Kubayi has terminated the services of “everyone from the driver all the way to senior officials”.
“The new minister arrived with her chief of staff and private secretary. This is often the case when ministers are transferred from one ministry to another, but this minister was appointed straight out of Parliament,” a former employee said.
Kubayi, a former MP, was one of several new additions to the Cabinet following President Jacob Zuma’s controversial axing of Pravin Gordhan as finance minister on March 31. The reshuffle saw the departure of transport minister Dipuo Peters, public service minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi and tourism minister Derek Hanekom.
He also fired Tina Joematt-Pettersson, the energy minister. Some observers believe the reshuffle was done to retain or hire ministers, who are likely to drive his nuclear agenda hard.
A former employee in the department of energy said he had heard that Kubyai arrived “with a whole new team. I was told that she told staff: ‘We have a task at hand. I hope you understand that you are assigned to a term of office so there will be changes.’ ”
Another source, a former senior official, said: “In respect of the out-going minister of energy’s staff, all the staff, excluding the special advisers, were called to a meeting with the new minister the Monday after she was appointed.”
He said she reminded them their jobs were linked to the previous minister and she would not retain them. “This included the low-level clerical and administrative staff,” he added.
The contracts of those sent packing were mixed. “Most of the nonpermanent staff were sent letters indicating that their contracts will come to an end at the end of April.
“The only posts which were regarded as political appointments were those of the two special advisers, whose terms of office were linked to that of the minister. They were appointed on policy grounds and departed office with the ministers and often followed their ministers to new appointments, if they were appointed elsewhere.”
The appointment of Thabiso Thiti as chief of staff, reflected on the ministry’s website, has raised suspicion in some quarters because of his previous stints at the SSA.
He worked for the National Intelligence Agency and, later, the SSA, intermittently between 2006 and 2016. In a 2014 research report done for his master’s degree in public and development management, Leadership and Strategy Implementation in the National Youth Development Agency, Thiti gave special thanks to the SSA, presumably as a funder of his studies.
Asked about the concerns regarding his appointment, Thiti said: “It’s no secret that I worked for SSA. But not everyone who comes from the ‘farm’ are spooks.
‘Besides, if I had wanted to hide the fact that I worked for SSA, I certainly would not have included that in the acknowledgement [for his research paper].”
Kubayi confirmed the departure of those who had worked under Joemat-Pettersson but added: “It’s not personal, nor is it political. I want a team who will help me to achieve my mandate and this was done to ensure I work with people who understand my ethical, professional expectations.”
She confirmed she had called staff into the boardroom for a meeting and told them about the changes she intended to make.
From the outset, she said there were two posts she felt strongly about.
“I indicated I would not compromise on the post of chief of staff and that of my private secretary. The chief of staff is critical to me because that is the person I expect to run the workings of my office.”
Kubayi said there was nothing untoward about Thiti’s appointment, that they had known each other since their student days, and that she considered him a strong administrator.
“He is not here as a spook and, contrary to what some may think, he was my choice for the job and not forced on my office.”
She added, over the years, as ministers vacated their offices, some of their staff were kept on. “However, this has resulted in a growing number of extra staff for whom we don’t have budget for and who were not hired in terms of process.”
As a result, the department was over-budget by R20-million, and this had to be addressed.
The former senior official the Mail & Guardian spoke to said, although, traditionally, only the ministerial advisers were considered political appointments, the trend was now to include the chief of staff, private secretaries and the parliamentary officer. “As such, these posts are no longer advertised either.”
Asked about the clean-out by Kubayi and whether Joemat-Pettersson’s departure could be linked to the government’s nuclear plans, he said: “I think there was some attention [by Joemat-Pettersson] to trying to ensure the correct process was followed, particularly in respect of not allowing any undue influence from outside parties and especially foreign governments and their agencies.
“It may be that she was removed because she failed to deliver the nuclear deal.”
At the start of the court hearing in February about the legitimacy of the state’s procurement moves, the government’s legal team expressed doubts that the state would win the case. After that it became “apparent” she would be removed.
“I presume the president would have been informed at that stage,” the former official said.
Earlier this week, Gordon Mackay, the Democratic Alliance spokesperson on energy, said, despite what people might think, he did not believe Joemat-Pettersson was pushing for new nuclear power.
“There has been this huge misconception that Ms Joemat-Pettersson was Zuma’s woman driving nuclear. In actual fact, if anything, I think she pushed the renewables agenda. Part of the reason she pushed that so hard was very much to build new capacity into the electricity market from renewables so that the case for nuclear would be less and less.”