Prisons boss Fraser at odds with jailers

Controversial: Arthur Fraser has been accused of undermining qualified officials in the prisons department. (Paul Botes)

Controversial: Arthur Fraser has been accused of undermining qualified officials in the prisons department. (Paul Botes)

Eight prison wardens who were fired for refusing to feed prisoners because they were participating in an illegal strike in 2015 have been reinstated retrospectively. The move, at a cost of R12-million, comes on the orders of controversial prisons boss Arthur Fraser.

The eight, who are to be paid between R1.2-million and R1.3-million each, will be re-employed after Fraser, the national commissioner of correctional services, overturned a decision by KwaZulu-Natal prison bosses to oppose an order reinstating them.

Their reinstatement was then ordered by the General Public Service Sector Bargaining Council, in April.

Posts will have to be created at the Qalakabusha Correctional Centre in Empangeni to accommodate the eight because none are available.

The decision is one of several taken by Fraser, who was moved to correctional services in April 2018 after serving as director general of the State Security Agency (SSA) since 2016. These decisions have come under fire from senior officials in the department.

Fraser was implicated in corruption amounting to billions of rands and abuse of power in Jacques Pauw’s book The President’s Keepers.

He is also the subject of an investigation by a high-level review panel, appointed by President Cyril Ramaphosa, to probe the abuse of power claims.

A senior prison official in KwaZulu-Natal, who asked not to be named because he is not authorised to speak to the media, said the regional leaders’ decision had been countermanded by Fraser.

“The DCS [department of correctional services] region intended to take the matter on review.
However, DCS head office intervened and instructed regional human resources not to take the matter on review, based on the instructions of the national commissioner. [Head office was] further instructed to reinstate the dismissed employees retrospectively from the date of dismissal.”

The official added: “This has huge financial implications for the state as currently estimates of the cost are R12-million. Good governance is being compromised by the DCS in this case.”

This “disciplinary inconsistency” would “damage labour relations in the workplace”, he said.

Officials also say that Fraser’s appointment of Mandla Mkhabela as chief operating officer was irregular.

“The post was not advertised and a number of more qualified persons in the department, who are more up to date on how it is run, were passed over,” said a second official. “People who are more qualified and senior to Mkhabela are now forced to report to him.”

The department’s national management committee, which had previously met, along with Fraser, to discuss policy and other matters, had also been bypassed, according to a third source.

“The commissioner changed things, saying he wanted that structure to act as an advisory body on administrative matters and not to take decisions. Even this has been undermined — the structure has not sat since the changes were made,” he said.

In January, Fraser suspended KwaZulu-Natal regional commissioner Mnikelwa Nxele over the firing of a correctional services manager in 2014. The manager was reinstated by the bargaining council in 2017 and resumed work in November.

Nxele has approached the labour court in Durban to challenge his suspension.

“It is of concern that Fraser, who has been dumped on DCS because of the allegations of corruption and mismanagement against him, appears to be intent on bringing in his own people and undermining qualified officials. We have gone some distance at DCS in creating a more open service and we fear that this will be undone under his tenure,” a fourth source said.

“There was a history of [Fraser] manipulating structures at the SSA. It appears we are being subjected to the same thing here, to the detriment of the DCS. This will undermine the progress we have made in the DCS and will set us back badly.”

The report of the high-level review panel on the SSA, published in December, found that the strategic development plan initiated by Fraser had had disastrous consequences for the security agency and ordered that the restructuring and appointments made as part of it be set aside.

The panel ruled that the structure set up by Fraser be dismantled and that “management and staff displaced by the SDP [strategic development plan] process be urgently reinstated”.

Correctional services spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo had not responded to calls and emails from the Mail & Guardian requesting comment at the time of going to print.

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