Water and sanitation minister Lindiwe Sisulu has won the latest of the series of legal battles in response to her review of the country’s water boards, which has seen a fightback by board members and executives of a number of the entities.
Sisulu has dissolved the boards of the Umgeni Water Board, Sedibeng Water and Magalies Water in recent months as part of a process of reviewing the entities under her control, mainly because their appointment by her predecessor, Gugile Nkwinti, had not been regularised by the cabinet.
She has also appointed an interim board at Lepelle Northern Water, whose chief executive officer, Phineas Legodi, was placed on precautionary suspension by the new board.
In the most recent legal clash, an attempt by Legodi to secure an urgent interdict against his precautionary suspension failed this week.
Legodi was placed on precautionary suspension on June 2. He then went to court to have the decision set aside and to challenge the appointment of an interim board at Lepelle by Sisulu in May.
The board had suspended Legodi pending an investigation into irregularities at the entity under his leadership.
On Monday, the Pretoria high court found that Legodi had failed to prove any urgency in the application, which was the fourth he had brought against the board since his suspension. The court found Legodi’s conduct had been “tantamount to abuse of the court in the quest to obtain relief in the matter” as he had failed to mention the earlier applications, all of which had been dismissed.
The court found Legodi was suspended on full pay and was not suffering any prejudice because of the suspension, which was in place for the duration of the investigation, the outcome of which he could challenge.
He had also failed to prove that the board had been guilty of any acts of unlawful or wasteful expenditure, the court said.
Last week Umgeni Water board member Visvin Reddy and other members lodged an urgent application for an interdict in the Pietermaritzburg high court. This was after Sisulu dissolved it and appointed an interim board.
However, the court also ruled that the matter was not urgent and it was set down for August 26, when Sisulu’s opposing argument will be heard.
In terms of the court order, Sisulu undertook that the board would not sit, or take any decisions, until after the matter went back to court.
Sisulu’s spokesperson, Yonela Diko, said that the minister welcomed the decision that the application, which she would oppose, was not urgent.
Diko said the department was “concerned by the sense of entitlement of various board members”, who had accepted the ministry’s invitation to serve, knowing that the minister had the right to remove them for a variety of reasons which includes efficiency, financial management and regularisation.
Diko said Sisulu “noted” the decision by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration that Amatola Water had acted irregularly in suspending its chief executive officer, Vuyo Zitumane, on Sisulu’s instruction.
Diko said Sisulu would challenge the ruling, which he described as “bizarre” as she had not interfered in the board’s decisions around suspending Zitumane, which it had taken by itself.
“The minister does not suspend, hire or fire employees of water boards. That remains solely the task of the board,”’ Diko said.