The finance ministry has red-flagged a plan by Transport Minister Blade Nzimande to remove a seasoned administrator from the North West department of transport and replace him with his former spokesperson and chief of staff in the higher education department, Nqabekaya Nqandela.
Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene wrote to Nzimande last week asking him to reconsider his decision, saying it was not in the best interests of stabilising the North West government, much of which was placed under national administration after weeks of unrest over shoddy service delivery earlier this year.
Nene noted “with concern” that Nzimande intended removing Mathabatha Mokonyama, who had a “wealth of expertise” that had helped to address “inefficiencies within the provincial department”.
However, Nzimande’s spokesperson, Ishmael Mnisi, confirmed Nqandela’s appointment.
Mokonyama, a career civil servant and transport specialist, is the deputy director general of the national department of transport, and was appointed as administrator and chief accounting officer of transport in North West when it was placed under administration.
Nene has also asked Nzimande to provide evidence of Nqandela’s qualifications and his ability to act as administrator of the department.
Nzimande wrote to Nene last month telling him of his intention to remove Mokonyama and replace him with Nqandela.
Nzimande appointed Nqandela as administrator for the Local Government Sector Education and Training Authority in 2013 (LGSeta). Nzimande had also appointed him as his special adviser after taking over the transport portfolio in February this year.
In his letter, Nene said of Mokonyama: “Based on his background and experience, he has been able to demonstrate leadership and guidance not only to the transport sector, but he is also assisting other administrators who are new in the process to make informed decisions and how to navigate within the provincial politics.
“There[has]been progress and I am concerned that withdrawing Mr Mokonyama will result in regression on the progress made.”
Nene wrote that his “humble” request was that Nzimande reconsider his decision in the best interests of North West.
Headded that should Nzimande want to press ahead with his decision, he should provide Nqandela’s profile and “documentary evidence of his ability to implement a successful intervention plan through his leadership skills” so that Nqandela could be appointed in terms of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA).
A senior higher education official, who had worked under Nzimande, said Nqandela had been appointed “out of loyalty”. This was a “serious risk” in a fragile province like North West.“He battled to manage the Seta. It will be very difficult for him to deal with a department like transport, where you are involved with infrastructure, roads, public transport and in a province that is already in trouble.”
An ANC leader and MP questioned Nzimande’s move on the grounds that it was the finance ministry, and not transport, that should be determining the fitness of officials to be appointed.“There is no line function minister who can make a judgment call better than the minister of finance in terms of what is needed to improve on governance and financial management. This [Nzimande’s decision] is out of order.”
Nzimande also had a “track record” of “putting his own people” in the Setas and elsewhere while he was the higher education minister.
“He loaded the Setas and every other board he had influence over with his people,” the MP said.
The North West premier’s office was placed under administration in terms of section 100 (a) of the Constitution earlier this year.The province’s departments of public safety and transport, finance, economy and enterprise, local government and human settlements, rural, environmental and agricultural development, social development and tourism were also placed under administration.
Treasury spokesperson Jabulani Sikhakhane confirmed that Nene “did raise a concern that the withdrawal of Mr Mokonyama could set back the work of the intervention team in North West” and that he had requested documentary evidence of Nqandela’s abilities, as required by the PFMA.