MINISTER Jeff Radebe said the SA Nuclear Energy Corporation ran into a series of governance issues. Photo: GCIS

JOHANNESBURG – The axed top brass of the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation  (Necsa) have launched a high court challenge to their removal by Energy Minister Jeff Radebe last week and alleged that the minister has tried to push an illegal agenda.

Axed Necsa chairperson Kelvin Kemm, board member Pamela Bosman and group chief executive Phumzile Tshelane, who were placed on precautionary suspension late on Friday, have applied to the high court for an urgent interdict to review and set aside Radebe’s decision to remove the board.

Necsa, a state-owned entity responsible for promoting research and development in the field of nuclear energy, has grappled with controversy related to corporate governance and financial mismanagement.

Douglas Molepo, an attorney at ENS Africa, will be representing the suspended board members in their court battle. The application is scheduled to be heard on January 17.

“I think the decision is going to be reversed,” he said yesterday.

“We believe his decision is completely irrational and has violated the right to be heard. He (Radebe) did not give them the opportunity to be heard, and he did not apply his mind,” Molepo said.

Radebe said on Friday that, in a meeting he and Deputy Minister Thembisile Majola had with the Necsa board, they emphatically expressed their concerns about the board’s failure to perform its statutory duties and address the very serious transgressions and failures raised.

“Subsequently, we requested the Necsa board members to give compelling reasons as to why they should not be relieved from their positions on the board.

“Following the receipt of the Necsa board members’ representations, we were still not convinced the board would be able to resolve the challenges at Necsa, hence we decided to relieve the entire board membership of its duties,” he said.

The Cabinet meeting last Wednesday approved the appointment of the new Necsa board.

Radebe on Friday appointed a new board, including Rob Adam as the new chairperson and Don Robertson as interim chief executive.

Radebe said he had dissolved the board following a series of acts of defiance placing Necsa subsidiary NTP Radioisotopes, the international supplier of nuclear medicine, at risk of losing its global market share. 

He blamed the board for financial mismanagement, remuneration irregularities and unauthorised international travel. 

“The continued ineptitude and deliberate acts of defiance resulted in various setbacks and losses, such as the non-production of medical isotopes for over a year following the shutdown of the NTP, which the Necsa board failed to resolve when it was within their capacity to do so,” Radebe said.

The NTP radiochemical facility that produces radioisotopes for industrial and medical purposes, including helping cancer patients, was re-opened last month after a year-long shut down resulting from a series of safety concerns. 

Kemm, Tshelane and Bosman said in a joint statement yesterday that Radebe had accused Necsa of “deliberate acts of defiance”. 

In the statement, they alleged: “It was not defiance. It was an objection to things that the minister did which were illegal, or highly irregular. He ordered the GCEO to employ someone who is a friend of the deputy minister. He appointed the deputy minister to take ‘direct control’ of the nuclear medicine plant, when there was no need. This was illegal.”

Kemm, Tshelane and Bosman refuted Radebe’s allegations of financial mismanagement, remuneration irregularities and unauthorised international travel. They said that in the previous financial year Necsa had been awarded a trophy from the auditor-general for having totally clean books.

Necsa made a trading profit and paid R80 million in tax to the SA Revenue Service, one of the few state-enterprises in South Africa to be profitable.

Necsa had been awarded a trophy at Sochi in Russia this year for outstanding non-power achievements, including “for the best nuclear medicine company in the world”.  

“But the minister thinks the board and senior management are useless. So he replaced them in 48 hours,” the statement said.

“The minister accused Dr Kemm of authorising international travel for senior executives and scientists in an ‘unauthorised manner’. An investigation of this claim shows it to be totally false. 

“The minister claims that he did not approve of discussions with a Russian nuclear healthcare company for the expansion of oncology centres into Africa. Oncology diagnosis and treatment is one of the objectives of President (Cyril) Ramaphosa, as expressed in his SONA speech.

“The minister claims that he did not know about these plans. These plans were initiated two years ago and explained to previous ministers. Mr Radebe was told about it early in the year.

“On May 10, he was sent a copy of the strategic agreement with the Russian company, including a substantial explanation. He was repeatedly asked if he could provide time to discuss it in detail. He never did.”

Last week, the DA called on Radebe to come clean on Kemm and Tshelane’s suspension.

DA MP Gwen Ngwenya said: “While there have been numerous governance challenges at Necsa, South Africans need to know on what grounds the chief executive and chairperson have been removed from their positions,” Ngwenya said.

Radebe denied allegations by Ngwenya that he stood to benefit financially from the removal of the board, referring to these claims as “complete balderdash”.