Pretoria - A former chief operating officer (COO) in the Public Protector’s Office made shocking claims against suspended Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane, saying her leadership style was authoritarian and staff had to rise when she entered a room.
Mkhwebane also wanted to be addressed as madam, and not by name.
Basani Baloyi, who is currently a deputy director-general in the Gauteng Health Department, made these revelations when he was testifying on Monday in the inquiry into Mkhwebane’s fitness to hold office.
Baloyi worked as COO for eight months until she was dismissed by Mkhwebane and her then CEO, Vussy Mahlangu.
Her evidence painted Mkhwebane as a dictator who flunked human resource management policies and ruled with an iron fist to a point people were constantly scared.
“During Dashboard meetings, people were forced to commit to targets which they knew were impossible to achieve, because of the PP’s attitude of, ‘I don’t care. I want it’.
“The public protector’s leadership style was authoritarian. She must be addressed as ‘Madam’. She must be bowed down to, quite literally. Her style of leadership was characterised by inflexibility, irrationality and a failure or refusal to treat her staff with dignity and respect,’’ said Baloyi in her affidavit.
Her testimony follows the head of corporate services in the public protector’s office, Gumbi Tyelela, who told Parliament last week that Mkhwebane wanted to fire a former spokesperson for calling her by name because she had disrespected her.
As part of exercising her authority as the public protector, Baloyi said she received pressure from Mkhwebane to institute disciplinary actions towards workers who were unable to complete their tasks even though they had provided reasonable explanations for their failure to perform those tasks.
To make sure she followed instructions, Baloyi said Mkhwebane called her into her office and told her she was not taking responsibility for the non-performance of executives who reported to her.
“The public protector and the former CEO (Vussy Mahlangu) told me that if I did not take action against the executives, action would be taken against me.
“My response was to say I believed in hearing out an employee first to establish whether or not disciplinary steps are warranted in the first place and I preferred to make corrective interventions to address performance challenges where those exist, rather than to proceed to disciplinary steps as a first resort.”
She also recalled an event where her 8-year-old daughter was sick and hospitalised and Mkhwebane threatened her with a disciplinary action if she failed to meet her deadlines.
The threat was made despite sending proof of her daughter’s diagnosis.
“She replied to me, via WhatsApp text saying, will be taking action against CEO for your failure to meet deadline. We need to lead by example and be accountable. If you submitted all these on time such emergency would not portray one as insensitive.’’
Baloyi said she decided to take files with her to hospital and work while on her daughter’s bedside.
In 2019, Baloyi was eventually dismissed by Mkhwebane and her former CEO. She took her matter to court, challenging the legality of how she was dismissed.
“I still believe that the real reasons for this decision were unrelated to my performance in the eight months that I was at the PPSA, but rather emanated from a desire to purge me from the institution.
“I had come to be viewed by the public protector and the former CEO as a barrier standing in the way of them pursuing their personal agendas in the institution unchecked.”
Mkhwebane opposed Baloyi’s application saying she should have pursued the matter in the Labour Court and not in the High Court. The High Court agreed with Mkhwebane, however, the ruling was overturned in the Constitutional Court.
When asked about the status of the matter, Baloyi wanted to read a letter she received from the public protector’s office, however, Mkhwebane’s legal representative refused saying they don’t have the letter.
Baloyi summarised the letter saying she was offered an out of court settlement on July 22.
The hearing continues.