Durban — The National Lotteries Commission (NLC) is in total disarray after the suspension of its chief operating officer Philemon Letwaba and the sudden resignation of chief financial officer Xolile Ntuli.
This has also all been compounded by the controversial announcement and Cabinet approval of 76-year-old Barney Pityana’s appointment as chairperson of the commission.
The Daily News has learnt that Letwaba locked horns with the NLC after the board instructed him to furnish it with reasons as to why he should not be placed on precautionary suspension.
In a letter dated July 6, board member Beryl Ferguson wrote on behalf of the board to Letwaba, informing him of an investigation led by the Special Investigating Unit into allegations that he and his immediate family members had accepted financial benefits from businesses that had received grants from the commission.
However, a disciplinary hearing instituted by the NLC and led by advocate Chris Erasmus SC found no evidence of wrongdoing and acquitted Letwaba of all charges.
However, the board indicated that it was considering placing him on precautionary suspension as the board believed his continuing in the role may “endanger and/or compromise the board’s property”.
In response to the board, Letwaba’s lawyers wrote a letter on July 11, 2022, rejecting the board’s intention to suspend him and argued that doing so would be unlawful.
“The decision to suspend and charge our client is therefore not only irrational but is also a manifest abuse of power and mala fides.
“In addition, the reasons proffered to place our client on precautionary suspension is also defamatory.
“Our client reserves his rights against the board and/or the individual board members in their personal capacities in this regard.
“Furthermore, the threat that the ongoing investigation will be jeopardised is devoid of merit. Our client has already been investigated and cleared of the charges raised against him. The investigation against our client is thus completed and finalised.
“There is therefore no ongoing investigation that is at risk of being jeopardised. This reason must therefore be rejected out of hand.
“To the extent that there is an ongoing investigation, our client has not been made aware of such an investigation. This is further indicative of the board’s abuse of power, irrationality and ‘mala fides’ in this matter,” says the letter.
Letwaba’s lawyers demanded the notice of suspension be withdrawn by no later than Wednesday, and that the present disciplinary action against him be withdrawn.
The lawyers also demanded that an independent investigation be launched into the leak of Letwaba’s confidential information relating to the matter to the media.
Contacted for comment, Letwaba confirmed that his lawyers were handling the matter.
Approached for comment, NLC head of communications Ndivhuho Mafela said the commission would not divulge details on labour-related disputes to the public but will only pronounce on such once all processes have been concluded.
“The NLC would like to emphasise that it conducts its business in line with all relevant legislative principles in the country, including the Labour Relations Act which requires fairness and equity in the workplace.
“The commission has an obligation to follow through on any matters that are brought to its attention, without fear or favour.
“This means that all employees are subject to these principles and all complaints must be heard… ”
Mafela said the NLC was governed by strict laws, policies, and regulations to do the right thing regardless of whether it was popular or not, and that matters between employees and the NLC were confidential and the commission was bound to always respect this confidentiality.
As the battle for control over the R180 billion in revenue unfolds at the NLC, the publication learnt that Ntuli tendered her resignation at the beginning of July and is set to vacate her position on July 31.
Ntuli could not provide reasons for her sudden resignation but said that the policy of her employer does not allow her to dwell on why she had decided to leave.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the appointment of pensioner Pityana as the commission’s chairperson set tongues wagging with political parties and young people rejecting his appointment.
This comes after the Cabinet announced on Monday that it approved the appointment of a new chairperson for the NLC and that the approval was decided on at a Cabinet meeting last Thursday.
The EFF on Tuesday issued a statement rejecting the appointment of Pityana and criticised Department of Trade and Industry Minister Ebrahim Patel for attempting to “position his friends and business associates to win a manipulated lottery licence” that is due for renewal in July next year.
The spokesperson for the department, Bongani Lukhele said the department had no comment on the matter.