More legal woes for Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane
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FORMER Universal Service and Access Agency of SA (Usaasa) directors are considering additional legal action after the release of the Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s report that was used to fire them, was reviewed and set aside.
The six former Usaasa non-executive directors who challenged Mkhwebane’s 2018 report are ex-chairperson Mawethu Cawe, board members Jabulile Nkosi, Tshegofatso Maloka, Xola Stock, Linda Nene and Lungelwa Shandu.
Former telecommunications and postal services minister Dr. Siyabonga Cwele axed the board following Mkhwebane’s findings.
Judge Daisy Molefe reviewed and set aside the Public Protector’s report in the North Gauteng High Court, largely due to Mkhwebane’s refusal to remove chief investigator Abongile Madiba from the investigation, as requested by the former directors because he appeared to have taken an interest in the matter, and shown his bias.
In an e-mail to the former board members, in May 2018, Madiba said “bayadelela” (“they are disrespectful”) and that action should be taken against the entire board.
Cawe told Independent Media that the former board members felt illegitimately and illegally treated.
”We were very disappointed. There is nothing at all we did wrong,” he said, adding that the entire process was rather vindictive.
According to Cawe, the board was dealing with a chief executive who could not do his job.
He said they felt humiliated to the extent that the Public Protector even found that they were incompetent and needed training, when, in fact, the former board members were mostly young, but experienced and competent.
”She (Mkhwebane) never ever interviewed us or gave us a hearing,” said Cawe.
Their next course of action will be guided by their lawyers, who are paid by the former board members from their individual private funds, according to Cawe.
He said they were subjected to bad publicity, as a result of Mkhwebane’s report, and former chairperson of the National Assembly’s portfolio committee on telecommunications and postal services Jabu Mahlangu described them as delinquent directors.
Cawe added that he and other former board members became stigmatised people and now want Mahlangu to publicly apologise.
”He must be put into order. People suffered and couldn’t get jobs they applied for afterwards because of this issue,” he said.
Mahlangu, according to Cawe, got it badly wrong, and as a result they were treated like delinquents.
He said he found it bizarre for Cwele to not be shocked by the allegations against Lumko Mtimde, and instead the frivolous issue of a competent and highly qualified company secretary’s salary and appointment was used to axe them.
Mahlangu yesterday said when he made the statement, the committee had a report raising certain issues at the time.
”We were right at the time, oversight bodies must put their foot down. We can’t apologise for doing our work,” he said.
Mahlangu asked, that, were he to apologise, would he then be doing so as a former chairperson or an ordinary person.
”If there is a need to apologise, it does not cost me money but I will have to see the report (and judgment),” he said.
Cawe insisted that the National Treasury and the Office of the Auditor-General found that there was nothing untoward in the hiring of former Usaasa company secretary Selloane Motloung, as well as the issue concerning her salary.
As a result of the saga, Cawe maintained, the country missed an opportunity which would have seen schools and clinics in rural areas having access to Wi-Fi that would have helped immensely during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The ex-Usaasa board members’ troubles started when it resolved to suspend the agency’s former chief executive Lumko Mtimde, in June 2017, for issues relating to conduct and performance.
However, the suspension was never implemented due to Cwele’s intervention.
A board sub-committee was later established and recommended disciplinary action against Mtimde, in May 2018, and he unsuccessfully challenged his suspension, and attempted to interdict the disciplinary process.
While undergoing the disciplinary process, Mtimde made a protected disclosure complaint with Mkhwebane, accusing the board of irregularly appointing Motloung, as well as her salary.