Johannesburg - A protracted and bitter legal spat between former Water Affairs director-general Maxwell Sirenya and his former boss, Edna Molewa, has seen the senior official sit at home for two years while drawing a salary of more than R3 million.
The conflict began in 2013, about a year into his contract, after Sirenya clashed with Molewa, the then-water affairs minister.
At the centre of the fallout was an almost half-a-billion-rand IT tender, which at the time had pitted Molewa and former Public Service and Administration minister Lindiwe Sisulu against each other, with Sirenya caught in the middle.
Molewa and Sisulu clashed over whether the former was right in invoking the law to award the R419-million IT contract to Business Connexion.
This was as the extended contract with T-Systems was drawing to its close. All state departments are required to use the services of the State Information Technology Agency (Sita), but it is understood that Molewa had lost patience with the agency and its delays.
Sirenya defied his own minister, effectively siding with Sisulu when he refused to sign off on the contract.
The matter is close to being resolved, however, with the new minister of the reconfigured Water and Sanitation Department, Nomvula Mokonyane, lifting the suspension pending a new agreement.
Sirenya and Mokonyane’s chief of staff, Collin Pitso, confirmed this week that the matter was receiving attention at the highest level and was close to being settled.
“As you know, there’s been a change of ministers. We’re busy talking with the current minister.
“It started in February 2013, so it’s almost two years now. I’m not at work. I’m at home. I’m being paid for doing nothing,” said Sirenya.
Following his meeting with Mokonyane this week, Sirenya told Independent Media that he was suspended and disciplined by Molewa, despite his efforts “to protect the interests of the state”.
“(Mokonyane), as you have been told, has agreed first to drop the charges. I went to a formal disciplinary process which, in a way, was supposed to be formally closed, but I haven’t seen the formal documents. Minister Mokonyane is trying to address those issues.
“So it’s not settled yet. It was… complicated by the previous minister,” he said.
Sirenya’s battle has not come without its legal costs, with the former DG forking out more than R300 000 out of his own pocket to defend himself. He said Molewa also took away some of his payments, such as the allowance afforded to DGs. Sirenya also had to pay for the storage of personal belongings after his move.
“So, part of the settlement is basically an admission to say the whole thing was wrong. It was trumped-up charges and delaying tactics to weaken me,” he said.
He said his case was not unique and many DGs have found themselves in a similar situation.
“There are many DGs, but I’m probably the only one who has fought it as hard as I have. Others just give up eventually.
“It’s not an easy thing to take on ministers. It’s not an even power. You are weak on our side,” said Sirenya.
Pitso confirmed the meeting with Mokonyane and said the idea was to absorb Sirenya back into the “department’s employ”, albeit in a different capacity.
“(As of this week) the matter has been resolved, in terms of the suspension. The signing of agreements is the only thing missing,” said Pitso, who has not responded to further written questions in time for our print deadline.
Sirenya’s case is one of many and goes back to the issue of the high turnover of DGs, which in turn affects staff morale and organisational effectiveness and thus service delivery.