The mystery of how a disgraced civil servant, who is the subject of two criminal investigations related to his previous job, landed a cushy board of directors posting at a state-owned entity has revealed a link to Minerals and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe.
Last week, the department of mineral resources and energy did not explain why the former Railway Safety Regulator chief executive officer, Nkululeko Poya, was appointed to the Central Energy Fund (CEF) board despite numerous allegations of maladministration and corruption, including two criminal investigations.
A deeper look into his tenure at the safety regulator has thrown up a possible reason: Mantashe’s nephew, Zuko Mantashe, was hired as a senior sales manager at the railway safety regulator three years ago. His contract was not renewed after Poya’s departure from the regulator last June and that position no longer exist.
This was confirmed by the regulator’s spokesperson, Madeleine Williams, who said Zuko’s employment on a two-year contract followed a full recruitment process that included advertising and panel interviews.
“Mr Mantashe was initially appointed as manager: sales (Paterson Grade D2) on a two-year, fixed-term contract effective from 15 August 2016 until 14 July 2018. However, on 16 January 2017 he was redeployed from his sales manager post to the position of risk manager until the expiry of his contract in July 2018. Both positions were at the same Paterson grade,” she said.
Two people, who used to work at the railway regulator, claim that Poya, through his powerful position, pushed for Zuko’s appointment despite the company not needing a sales person.
The Mail & Guardian understands that Zuko initially challenged the regulator’s decision not to renew his contract at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration, but abandoned the process.
This week he laughed when asked whether he thought Poya was being rewarded by his uncle for getting him a job. He asked, “Are you serious?”, before declining to comment any further.
As minerals and energy minister, Gwede Mantashe is the government’s shareholder representative to the CEF and has authority to appoint board members, subject to security vetting, as well as Cabinet and presidential concurrence.
Although it is widely accepted that ministers have their own prerogative on the appointment of nonexecutive directors, candidates are expected to be fit and proper, as well as possess subject matter knowledge or legal, finance or corporate governance expertise.
Abuse of this system is something that analysts have long lamented, with the appointment of cadres or cronies to the boards of state-owned entities — such as SAA, Eskom and Transnet — cited as a big part of the reason for the poor performance of these companies.
Mantashe’s spokesperson, Ayanda Shezi, did not respond to questions sent to her on Wednesday morning.
A source who worked at the railway regulator at the time but has since left, recalled how Poya initially attempted to employ the young Mantashe as the head of a sales department that was to be created. But he was moved after employees raised the fact that a safety regulator does not need a sales department.
Zuko was then appointed senior manager responsible for risk, said the source. “Everyone was shocked that [Zuko] Mantashe would be brought in for sales,” said the source. “When that didn’t work we found out that Mantashe was given another contractual position. That’s just how things happened there, appointments without going through any kind of processes.”
Williams said that at the time of Mantashe’s appointment the safety regulator was intent on pursuing a consultancy business in the African continent as part of an alternative revenue strategy. Thus the sales manager position, which was scrapped from the organogram after restructuring earlier this year, would have been required to drive business development.
Poya, speaking through his attorney, this week told the M&G he did notintend discussing matters “regarding the unfounded allegations made against him”.
“Our client is of the view, which view we support, that thecallegations that you are making against him are without merit and are an unfortunate attempt to cast him in a negative light,” Lancaster Kungoane Attorneys said.
“However, we reserve our client’s rights to respond thereto at the appropriate time and in the appropriate forum. Our failure to respond thereto at this stage should not be considered to be an admission of such allegations, but rather a denial.”
This week the M&G published an article on its website (“A former CEO who is facing criminal charges has been appointed to the CEF board”, October 27) in which two people that Poya had unlawfully surveilled — former railway safety regulator board member Masindi Tshamunwe and M&G journalist Athandiwe Saba — questioned how he could be appointed to the board.
Williams said the railway regulator, which also laid a criminal complaint against Poya with the Hawks, was equally shocked to learn their former staff member had been appointed as a nonexecutive director.
He faced 14 gross misconduct charges related to alleged infractions dating back to 2014. These included misleading the board on financial matters, by ordering the deletion of purchase orders from the railway regulator’s system; abuse of his corporate expense account; altering the scope of commercial agreements and causing millions of rands in additional costs and abuse of authority in relation to unauthorised investigations.