Durban - The KwaZulu-Natal Treasury has cocked a snook at outgoing Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, calling her findings that a senior official was sacked for blowing the whistle on alleged corruption “defective”.
It has also vowed to challenge in court an order to reinstate her.
On Tuesday, Madonsela said Fikile Hlatshwayo-Rouget, former Treasury deputy director-general in the finance unit, was fired in 2013 after making a protected disclosure regarding suspected corruption, conflict of interest, maladministration and related procurement irregularities.
One of the alleged irregularities was the Durban North Sea Jazz Festival, which never took place, at a cost of R25 million.
In the report, titled “Rocking the Boat”, Madonsela said the complainant initially lodged the complaint with her office in September 2013, and with the Special Investigation Unit on January 5, 2014, alleging that the HOD, Smiso Magagula, and former MEC, Ina Cronje, suspended and later dismissed her on trumped-up charges after her “blowing the whistle”.
Hlatshwayo-Rouget has been unemployed since then.
The protector gave the Treasury 30 days from the date of the report’s release to take remedial action.
Magagula said that a “comprehensive” response was being prepared.
The Treasury said it would take the report to the high court for review and to be set aside.
The office of MEC Belinda Scott said: “It’s unfortunate that the public protector saw it fit to publicly criticise the MEC and the Treasury without the courtesy of providing the report (prior) to addressing the media”
The department listed the following points as disqualifying Madonsela’s report and action:
* It was not correct that the complainant made a protected disclosure. Instead, the disclosures had already been made while the complainant was still on probation.
* She (Hlatshwayo-Rouget) appealed against her dismissal and the appeal was dismissed.
* The dismissal and appeal findings were administrative actions, and as such were legally binding and could not be overlooked or ignored or disregarded by the department.
* To the extent that the fairness of her dismissal was in dispute, then that dispute should be decided by the Labour Court.
* The existing Labour Court proceedings arising from the complainant’s dismissal would allow the parties to lead evidence and test the other party’s evidence.
* The public protector had exceeded her powers and had opened the door for disgruntled employees to bypass legal procedures specifically created to allow them to protect their rights, and to approach the public protector directly, and in doing so, denying the employer the right to be heard.
* The process followed by the public protector was not fair in that material witnesses were not interviewed.
In her report, Madonsela said the complainant was appointed on July 5, 2013 and commenced employment on August 1, 2013. She reported to HOD Magagula, who in turn reported to Scott. Hlatshwayo-Rouget had three subordinates, including Dr Clive Coetzee.
“The complainant further reported the alleged improprieties including the excessive use of consultants, organising of air shows and the Durban North Sea Jazz Festival to the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) and the public protector before her dismissal.
“Subsequent investigations by the SIU and a consultancy engaged by the Treasury, confirmed the allegations against Dr Coetzee, later placed on suspension.
“These investigations also confirmed that Treasury’s involvement in the procurement of the Durban North Sea Jazz Festival was improper and that payment of R25 million to Soft Skills Communications CC towards the festival that never took place, by the Department of Economic Development and Tourism, constitutes abuse of state funds, which funds Treasury is, according to MEC Scott and HOD Magagula, in the process of clawing back,” said Madonsela in the report.
She recommended that Premier Willies Mchunu ensure that Scott implement the remedial action within the set time.
Mchunu’s spokesman, Ndabezinhle Sibiya, said: “Once he has been formally briefed, he will make a formal statement.”
Opposition parties said the department’s response was a trend of undermining Chapter 9 institutions.
DA leader in KZN, Zwakele Mncwango, said: “We have many people who work for government who sit back and not report corruption because they are scared.”
The IFP’s Blessed Gwala said: “People must be educated about the Protected Disclosures Act 26 of 2000, which protects employees who disclose information of unlawful or corrupt conduct by their employer and other employees from occupational detriment.”