AGRICULTURE, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson is being challenged over statements she made about a senior department head being disciplined.

Sue Middleton, the deputy director-general of the department, offended by the statement, has written to acting director-general Sipho Ntombela asking for a meeting to discuss the “unsubstantiated” statements casting her in a bad light.

Middleton was put on precautionary suspension on May 4 after allegedly authorising a last-minute deal to help the Navy manage the Fisheries’ research vessel. Her suspension was lifted in July after an administrative bungle.

Last week Joemat-Pettersson said Middleton had had a disciplinary hearing, was found guilty of financial misconduct, and had been given a final written warning.

Middleton referred all media queries to her lawyer Glen Cassells of Maserumule Inc Attorneys.

Cassells said Joemat-Pettersson’s comments were “factually incorrect” and she had not been issued with a final warning. “She was suspended and the 60 days in which they were supposed to pursue the matter expired. There were no steps taken against her,” said Cassells, adding that Middleton had not received any response from Ntombela and remained committed to dealing with the matter internally.

Cassells said Middleton had been interviewed by the director of employee relations in the Department of Public Service Administration but that nothing had come from the interview except a letter lifting her precautionary suspension. She had been told further developments would be relayed to her.

On Friday Cassells said Middleton had received no further correspondence on the issue and was continuing to work. For the minister to tell you Sue has received a written warning is wrong,” he said.

Department spokesman Selby Bokaba would only say Middleton’s matter was an internal staffing issue. Joemat-Pettersson’s spokeswoman Palesa Mokemole referred all queries to Bokaba.

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