‘Consumer body is in deep trouble’Comment on this story
Cape Town - It’s audit report was “one of the worst in this Parliament”, according to MPs, but the National Consumer Commission still wants more funds – including R60 000 for a coffee machine to boost staff morale.
The commission received a qualified audit opinion from the auditor-general – the worst possible result – after documents crucial to the audit were stolen in two burglaries. The audit also revealed that more than 70 percent of posts were vacant and found more than a third of the commission’s expenditure was irregular.
Acting National Consumer Commissioner Ebrahim Mohamed told Parliament’s portfolio committee on trade and industry that the qualified audit was “embarrassing to me, to the National Consumer Council, the Department of Trade and Industry, and to the government”.
Mohamed, who stepped into the position in September last year, said he was trying to right the ship, which was in deep trouble when he was appointed.
“There was a lot of instability and uncertainty,” he said.
Last year, former commissioner Mamodupi Mohlala-Mulaudzi took the Department of Trade and Industry to the Labour Court after it advertised her post before telling her that her contract would not be renewed.
The commission incurred irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure of R20 720 773, some of which included the personal legal fees of the former commissioner.
Mohamed said he was not certain what the legal costs were for. There were also no funds to fill the 98 vacancies in the organisation, which has 132 funded posts.
“As it is not expected that the NCC will receive funds to fill all vacancies at once, it is prepared to do so incrementally over the next three years, provided funds are made available,” Mohamed said.
These numbers did not include 32 staff members who were appointed irregularly and then were made permanent.
Mohamed said the 32, many with poor qualifications and few with tertiary education, had been employed on a month-to-month basis. “But, about two weeks prior to her departure, the former commissioner made them all permanent,” he said.
Minister of Trade and Industry Rob Davies decided to retain them in a bid to create stability and they were absorbed into the organisation, Mohamed said.
The commission’s tight budget also meant it had only enough money for one project per year. This project, the investigation into meat labelling in the country, had cost around R1.4 million, Parliament heard.
The committee was not pleased. The ANC’s Bheki Radebe said, “This is one of the worst reports I’ve read in this Parliament”, and that it sent a message to companies that they could abuse consumers because the watchdog was “weak”.
ANC MP Gaolaolwe Selau said the organisation needed a turn-around strategy, while the DA’s Wilmot James asked if the commission needed to be put under administration.
Mohamed said administration was not the answer, as the commission had started making changes as soon as he took over. The commission also told the committee a request for more funding had been submitted to the Trade and Industry Department. This request included funding for subject experts to consult on red meat and poultry issues, software, printers, the commission’s website, and a R60 000 coffee machine.
Company secretary Babs Kuljeeth said the R60 000 was based on actual quotations for use in two buildings.
“Some of the staff have come from the DTI (Department of Trade and Industry), and they have coffee machines there, so we are trying to have the same conditions at the NCC,” he said.
He said the coffee machines would help create a sense of community and a “pause area where staff can meet and chat”, because it had not been pleasant to work there. - Sunday Argus