SABS Chief Executive Dr Boni Mehlomakulu was suspended on Thursday. Photo: Leon Nicholas
JOHANNESBURG - SA Bureau of Standards (SABS) chief executive Boni Mehlomakulu has been suspended by the co-administrators of the bureau. 

Sidwell Medupe, a spokesperson for the Trade and Industry Department, confirmed at the weekend that Mehlomakulu was suspended from her duties effective from Thursday by the co-administrators. 

The suspension follows Mehlomakulu last week unsuccessfully applying to the Gauteng North High Court in Pretoria for an urgent interdict after the Minister ofTrade and Industry (dti), Rob Davies, last month removed the entire SABS board, including Mehlomakulu, because he had lost faith in its ability to effectively manage the bureau. Medupe said at the weekend Mehlomakulu had been placed on “precautionary suspension with full pay and remains an employee of the SABS”. He declined to comment on the reasons for Mehlomakulu’s suspension.

Medupe added that Mehlomakulu had not been present on the SABS campus since Thursday and the bureau’s co-administrators were in communication with Mehlomakulu’s lawyers regarding due process. Medupe confirmed to Business Report earlier this month that Mehlomakulu, who as chief executive was a member of the bureau’s board, had been dismissed as a board member, along with the other board members. He said Mehlomakulu remained chief executive but now reported to and took instructions from the co-administrators. 

Davies appointed three SABS co-administrators, SABS group operating officer Jodi Scholtz, deputy director-general Industrial Development Division at the dti Garth Strachan, and chief director of technical infrastructure institutions at the dti Tshenge Demana. He said the co-administrators were charged with producing a diagnostic report and turnaround action plan. They have been appointed for the period from July 2 this year until January 30 next year and in terms of the provisions of the Public Finance Management Act, they had been given all powers and duties necessary or incidental for the proper functioning of the SABS.

The dismissal of the entire SABS board and appointment of co-administrators of the bureau follows the SABS last year reporting a R44.3 million loss for its 2016/17 financial year and Davies in May this year confirming that the SABS was bleeding customers and potential revenue. The SABS has been in the spotlight since it emerged it irregularly certified substandard coal by Gupta-linked mines to facilitate the suspension imposed by Eskom on another supplier to pave the way for the Gupta-owned Tegeta contract to go ahead.

But the problems at the SABS go much deeper than that and it has received widespread criticism in the past few years from many industries about the level of service these industries were receiving from the bureau. Business Report reported in January last year that South Africa’s coatings industry claimed the SABS’ paint testing laboratories appeared to be non operational, which was damaging the local industry. 

The Master Chemical Blenders Association, which collectively represents more than 50 companies, last year told Business Report that their members were unable to get their compliance certificates from the SABS, despite interacting directly with Mehlomakulu, and that the SABS did not have testing capability and may possibly no longer be compliant.

Testing 

The SA National Accreditation System, which is responsible for accrediting industry bodies and laboratories that conduct testing and is recognised through legislation as the only national body responsible for carrying out accreditation, suspended the certification programmes of the SABS, but subsequently lifted this suspension in March 2016, claiming the suspension was of an administrative nature. Many other industries have complained to Business Report about the level of service provided by the SABS. 

Davies last month confirmed that he had received many complaints from both big and small business, including complaints from black industrial players that government was working hard to expand, about the lack of service delivery by the SABS. Davies confirmed in response to a Parliamentary question in May that the SABS had lost 1 052 customers since its 2015/16 financial year, including 401 customers since April this year, resulting in a loss of revenue to the bureau of almost R50 million in this period. In addition, the SABS had to refund 41 customers a total of R1.03m in this period. 

Davies said the peak in customer losses was in the SABS’ 2016/17 financial year and due to customers cancelling their permits and certificates with the SABS.

- BUSINESS REPORT