Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services Siyabonga Cwele. Picture: Archives
JOHANNESBURG - Telecommunications and Postal Services Minister Siyabonga Cwele has withdrawn a bizarre lawsuit against his former deputy director-general for allegedly overspending on an international conference that was hosted by the department five years ago.

Cwele quietly removed his application to the high court in Pretoria against Gift Buthelezi last week, telling the court that he was even prepared to pay for Buthelezi’s legal costs.

The notice to withdraw the application was sent to Buthelezi’s lawyers, Motsepe Attorneys, on Tuesday. Buthelezi was not immediately available for comment. But his lawyer, Matsela Motsepe, confirmed the withdrawal and Cwele’s olive branch to settle the legal bill.

Extraordinary

“Yes, the lawyers did send us his (Minister Cwele's) notice to withdraw the application,” Motsepe said. “What it means is that the plaintiffs are withdrawing the action and have tendered to settle our costs.”

In an extraordinary move last year, Cwele accused Buthelezi of spending more than he was supposed to on the International Telecommunication Union conference that was held in the Eastern Cape in 2012. Cwele wanted the court to order Buthelezi to repay R4317869, which he described as unlawful expenditure.

Cwele said the conference ultimately cost the department R6371869, of which just more than R600000 was paid back as a refund. At the time, Buthelezi was the department's head of international affairs and was also responsible for co-ordinating all the government programmes on the broadband and digital migration process.

In his claim, Cwele accused Buthelezi of spending more than the R144 0400 that had been approved by the department's controversial former director-general, Rosey Sekese.

Cwele said Buthelezi ignored a written directive from Sekese to cut certain events to ensure that the conference was held within the approved budget and pressed ahead with a request for a further R2170668, which the department was forced to pay even though it was not authorised. Buthelezi was subsequently fired by Sekese via SMS with three other senior officials last year in a move that threw the department into crisis as it prepared to roll out broadband and set-top boxes for almost 5million poor households in the country.

An insider yesterday said the entire action was aimed at protecting Sekese, who Buthelezi had challenged for his dismissal. “Everyone knew it was a waste of time but the minister (Cwele) thought it would at least take the spotlight off Sekese and her abuse of authority,” the insider said.

Besides Buthelezi, Sekese also fired three other deputy directors last year within five months, plunging the department into a crisis as it prepared to roll out broadband and set-top boxes.

Buthelezi said the lawsuit was designed to intimidate him from an arbitration case to force the department to reinstate him after the Public Service Commission (PSC) declared his dismissal was unlawful.

Contemplating

He said Sekese paid R3.6m for the venue long before he became involved in the organisation of the conference. The PSC also blamed Sekese’s style of management for the leadership crisis in the department.

Motsepe said Buthelezi was contemplating his next move. “He is currently weighing up his options on what to do from here,” she said. The department was not immediately available for comment.

- BUSINESS REPORT