WCED ’wasted’ over half a million rand on Neumann legal battle
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Cape Town - The Western Cape Education Department’s (WCED) legal cheque against Heathfield High School principal Wesley Neumann has reached over half a million rand, raising eyebrows about the department’s priorities.
A total of R663 326 has been spent by the department.
The amount includes R581 026 for legal representation, and R82 300 that went towards the Presiding Officer.
About R103 718 of the R581 026 was spent on legal counsel for the Labour Court matter, and R477 30 for the disciplinary hearing.
Neumann faces dismissal which stems from refusing to reopen the school last year amid the Covid-19 infection peak.
WCED spokesperson Bronagh Hammond said the nature of the seriousness of the charges being contemplated include an assault of a learner, failure to obey a legitimate instruction and bringing the organisation into disrepute.
“The WCED is entitled, as is Mr Neumann, to have legal counsel. We cannot be criticised for getting legal counsel for such an application as it is common practice to get counsel in such a matter.
’’Mr Neumann also chose not to have union representation at his hearing and instead opted for legal counsel. We thus went the same route,” Hammon said.
According to Hammond there were 26 days scheduled for the hearing - the department closed its case after 6 days and Neumann’s defence lasted 19 days.
“We gave Mr Neumann fair opportunity to plead his case. Neumann has also raised a number of technical points aimed at having the charges thrown out, challenging interlocutory rulings made by the chairperson and seeking her recusal which has delayed matters throughout.”
She said the hearing couldn’t proceeded one morning when protesters allegedly trapped the chairperson and an attorney on the staircase. “All these delays bear costs.”
Heathfield High School Governing Body (SGB) spokesperson Brandon de Kock said the department wasted colossal taxpayer money on trying to get rid of one person.
“The WCED is unethical and this amount can never ever be justified in its usage.
“Mr Neumann was only protecting the children and had their best interests at heart.
“The decision was taken by the SGB and he merely implemented them.
“There was absolutely no way he should have been charged for implementing a resolution taken by the SGB.
“These charges are of a personal nature and stem from victimization and bullying on the behalf of the department.”
De Kock said the department's conduct was in breach of the spirit of good faith and practice as per the Labour Relations Act and the case has taken a toll on Neumann and his family.
“The WCED always claims never to have money to fund poorer schools. This is a serious indictment of the Provincial Government's posture toward the poor,” he said.
ANC education spokesperson Khalid Sayed said it was unprecedented for a government department to spend over half a million on a disciplinary hearing for one employee.
“The WCED even hired a senior counsel on a matter of this nature. The persecution of Principal Neumann will go down in history as the most expensive and exposes the DA’s hypocrisy, which has let off White Teachers fingered in fraud and malfeasance scot-free.”
He said next year the department will cry inadequate funds when it is asked to account for unplaced learners.
“Funds could have been used to build more classrooms, employ more teachers and could have been used to target excellent, hard working and dedicated black principals.
“In fact WCED has allocated R7.3 million for a war chest to fight legal battles especially with employees.”
Parents for Equal Education South Africa Vanessa Le Roux said:“I have personally been to one of these cases, and it is scary how much the WCED spends on legal fees.
The WCED must look into these legal matters and ask themselves whether they could have the resources to address one of our many other challenges.”