’A campaign to demonise’: KwaZulu-Natal legislature speaker responds to open letter by the IFP’s Blessed Gwala
By Nontembeko Boyce
In an open letter to me as the speaker of KwaZulu-Natal legislature, which was published by many media houses this week, Honourable Blessed Gwala makes many unfounded allegations which have the potential to hoodwink the public and blemish my name.
It is therefore important to set the record straight, as democracies survive and thrive in an enabling environment where allegations can be put to the test, and these very democracies are threatened when institutional processes and systems are not utilised and allegations are thrown into the court of public opinion for narrow, opportunistic self-interest.
Insofar as Hon Gwala’s allegation that the Rules don’t provide an opportunity for questions to be directed to the speaker is concerned, section 117(1) (a) of the SA Constitution gives all members of the legislature freedom of speech in the debates of the House and any of its committees. This includes a member not being liable for any civil or criminal activity, or damages due to anything which he has said or brought forth in the legislature.
Regrettably, Gwala has opted to mislead the public with spurious allegations claiming that no structure exists for political parties to ask direct questions to the speaker. Be that as it may, below are facts on matters raised in the open letter:
Gwala alleges that I have abused taxpayers’ money by refusing to use a car purchased by the legislature. It is important to underscore that the use of private vehicles for business is provided for in the ministerial handbook that is applicable to members of the executive and the speaker of the legislature, and therefore not illegal.
Insofar as the allegations pertaining to the appointment of the executive manager, we can only assume that Gwala is referring to the recent appointment of the executive manager: parliamentary service.
The post was publicised in the regional and national newspapers and a successful candidate was already in the employ of the KZN lgislature. The relationship that exists between me and the successful candidate is not dissimilar to that which exists with other employees of the legislature, which is the formal relationship of any workplace.
On the issue of the post being changed from being a five-year contract, the legislature was guided by the case law and precedence that has been widely applied within the legislative sector that an employee who applies for a higher position cannot be promoted on less favourable conditions than he/she currently enjoys.
I want to remind Gwala that a Parliament senior legal adviser successfully used two instances of case law to be appointed on a permanent basis. And when the KZN legislature senior manager responsible for legal services was appointed in 2013, he also used the same case law and precedent to have his post made permanent.
Accordingly, precedent exists for taking such a route and failure to do so would have exposed the legislature to legal challenges.
The legislature therefore acted prudently in this regard. We want to underscore that our recruitment processes are managed by the Human Resources Unit, as required by legislature regulations.
Gwala queries the appointments in the office of the speaker. We want to state that the legislature is always guided by policies and procedure when recruiting for political offices.
While Gwala speaks to three positions, we want to put it on record that all appointments made in the office of the speaker since the beginning of the sixth term were done using the procedure which has been in place since the advent of the democratic dispensation, which is aligned to guidelines contained in the ministerial handbook insofar as it regulates staff appointment in the office of the executive authority.
Gwala wants to know why the media officer was promoted to D2 level instead of D1 level. We wish to inform him that the media officer is employed and remunerated at salary level D1, not D2.
This is in line with the approved organisational structure.
The organogram of the office of the speaker does not have a deputy manager, as alleged by Gwala. Notwithstanding that, the professionals employed in the speaker’s office were all employed following due processes.
On the allegation of wasting R3million on a post-1994 legacy book and the dilly-dallying of the speaker on the matter, I must acknowledge that Gwala has been in the legislature since 1994, and while there is an expectation that he understands the sector properly, there is another reality of betrayal by memory.
Finally, Gwala gives the speaker 21 days to respond, with the threat of reporting to the Hawks or the Public Protector’s Office.
This is welcome because as the speaker charged to exercise accountability and oversight of how the taxpayers’ money is spent, we are first to open ourselves to accountability.
It is for this reason that we have consistently appeared before the standing committee on oversight, where the legislature accounts to all parties and of which Gwala is a member, representing his party.
* Boyce is speaker of the KwaZulu-Natal Legislature