Court orders that Ingonyama Trust Board staff be paid their salaries

The Ingonyama Trust Board (ITB) has been ordered by the labour court to pay April salaries to chief executive Lucas Mkhwanazi and 10 other staff members who it had placed on special leave. Their salaries had been paid until March, but were then stopped.

The court has also ordered Mkhwanazi and the trust board’s chief financial officer, Amin Mia, to meet its chairperson, Jerome Ngwenya, on Wednesday to assist him in locating supporting documents for its 2020-2021 budget. The department of land reform has withheld the entity’s R22-million allocation over its failure to submit the budget, which was due last October.

Last week the trust board came under fire in Parliament over its failure to submit the budget on time when presenting its annual performance plan. At the hearing, Ngwenya blamed the failure on the dispute with the executives, who were placed on special leave over a security contract.

Judge David Gush on Monday ruled that the 11 staff members, five of whom have been on special leave since 2018, should be paid their salaries by May 18.

The trust board administers nearly three million hectares of tribally controlled land in KwaZulu-Natal on behalf of the Ingonyama Trust, the sole trustee of which is King Goodwill Zwelithini.

The judge ruled that the two executives undertake to meet Ngwenya and find the information needed to submit the trust board’s budget to the land reform department.

Gush also instructed Ngwenya to communicate with the necessary board members to ensure that the payments for the 11 staff members are signed off on.

Mkhwanazi, Mia and three other managers were placed on special leave in January over the extension of a 2018 security contract for trust board land near Harding, where people had been mining illegally for iron pyrite.

In court papers, Ngwenya claimed the managers had allowed the security contract to run beyond the two weeks approved by the board, without authorisation. This eventually cost the entity more than R5-million.

Ngwenya claimed that Mkhwanazi had abdicated his responsibilities to junior officials and “took a laissez faire attitude” to the trust board’s strategic planning and budgeting.

Ngwenya said the 11 staff members’ combined annual salary came to R11.4-million and comprised more than 50% of the ITB’s allocation from the government.

No work, no pay

The trust board, he said, could not afford this and would have to “make ends meet”.

“It is bound to consider cost-cutting measures, which might include retrenchment. As matters stand, this appears to be an unavoidable consequence,” Ngwenya said.

Ngwenya said that the ITB had paid its other staff, but did not have the money to pay the applicants, to whom it had applied the “no work, no pay” principle.

The lockdown, he said, removed the obligation to pay staff salaries.

Ngwenya said the claim that he was a dictator was defamatory and “subversive” and showed the irretrievable breakdown of the relationship between the board and the managers.

In court papers, Mkhwanazi said the security contract had been handled by Ngwenya himself, together with a surveyor, and approved by the board.

Covid lockdown ‘an excuse’

He said the budget had been submitted to the trust board’s finance committee last year and that delays in doing so had been caused by Ngwenya, who had failed to convene meetings.

Mkhwanazi said Ngwenya’s claims that the trust board could not afford to pay salaries were false and that neither he nor Mia had failed in their duties regarding the budget process.

He said Ngwenya had rendered them unable to do any work for the ITB while on special leave — which he described as a suspension — by taking away their work phones and laptops and removing them from the trust board’s network.

Ngwenya had “expressly told us not to perform our services and has made it clear that [he] does not currently want us back at work. The Covid-19 restrictions thus have nothing to do with the situation and are patently being used as an excuse”.

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Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper

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