Pietermaritzburg - Suspended uMhlathuze Water Board chief executive Sibusiso Makhanya took his fight to be reinstated and have his suspension overturned to the Pietermaritzburg High Court on Tuesday.
Makhanya filed papers before the high court in July, and the matter was argued before Judge Yvonne Mbatha on Tuesday. Judgment has been reserved in the case.
In November last year, the board’s chairwoman, Dudu Myeni, suspended Makhanya, citing allegations of tender irregularities.
Makhanya has vehemently denied the allegations, and claims Myeni went after him because he would not follow instructions on certain matters she wanted to impose on him.
He then approached the high court to overturn his suspension.
In court papers, Makhanya said Myeni and her board had no right to suspend him and that their term of office expired in February last year, but was illegally extended by Water Affairs and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane.
Mokonyane is also cited as a respondent in Makhanya’s application.
Arguing Makhanya’s case on Tuesday, the suspended chief executive’s advocate, Griffiths Madonsela, said the minister had no statutory power or authority to extend the board’s term of office.
Their power lapsed on February 28, 2015, and in terms of the legislation, the minister has no power to extend the board’s lifespan.
Madonsela said in terms of the Water Act, Myeni had served the maximum period of three terms and the minister’s purported extension of the board’s and the chairman’s term of office was not only unlawful, but also unconstitutional.
“It amounts to an unlawful usurpation of legislative powers,” Madonsela said.
According to court papers, Myeni was first appointed to the board in 2002. In 2006, she was reappointed for a second term.
In 2010, the water authority appointed a new board after a selection panel found that Myeni was not suitable to be reappointed, as she would bring instability back in the board.
Eleven days after Myeni’s non-appointment, the then water affairs minister, Buyelwa Sonjica, intervened and reinstated her and other members to the board, on the premise that the appointment of the new board was flawed.
Mokonyane then extended the board’s term indefinitely.
This extension coincided with Mokonyane’s announcement to merge the Mhlathuze and Umgeni water boards.
Makhanya contends that Mokonyane extended the term of the board for the second time to benefit Myeni and ensure she became part of the board that would result from the merger of Umgeni and Mhlathuze.
In her responding affidavit, Myeni maintains Makhanya was suspended due to tender irregularities which could be proved against him. Disciplinary action had been instituted against him.
The investigation into Makhanya’s alleged mismanagement also revealed that procurement processes were not followed in relation to a number of projects, and he had allegedly signed off on a number of tenders without having the authority to do so.
Meanwhile, the minister contends that she is empowered by law to extend the life of a board, and to establish and dis-establish water boards.
She has also defended Myeni’s retention on the board as being “in the interest of continuity, stability and the need to ensure good governance”.