South Africa

Politics, South Africa

‘Fiscal Dumping’: Calls multiply for top administrator’s suspension over bad trip

‘Fiscal Dumping’: Calls multiply for top administrator’s suspension over bad trip

Parliament’s presiding officers are being drawn deeper into the controversy over the institution’s top administrator, Secretary to Parliament Gengezi Mgidlana. On Monday the National Education and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) parliamentary branch said they will receive a letter calling for Mgidlana’s suspension pending an independent investigation into the “fiscal dumping” of R1.8-million for overseas trips to three parliaments, accepting a R71,000 ex gratia payment just four months into the job and other allegations of financial shenanigans. Meanwhile the clock is ticking on the demand by Nehawu national leaders for Mgidlana to be removed over his “selective” implementation of last year’s bargaining agreements. By MARIANNE MERTEN.

The overseas benchmarking trips last year to the parliaments of the UK, Scotland and Turkey at a cost of about R1.8-million, and the R71,000 ex gratia payment, were raised by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and the DA alongside the fraught state of labour relations at the institution during last week’s debate on Parliament’s budget in the National Assembly.

In closing Thursday’s debate, Speaker Baleka Mbete said there was “nothing untoward” about the tours, which had been according to prescripts and approved by her and fellow presiding officer, National Council of Provinces (NCOP) chairperson Thandi Modise. Mbete said MPs were acting “unfair” to raise issues that should be referred to other parliamentary structures such as the internal audit committee.

On Monday, Nehawu said such a statement was tantamount to provocation.

We are very much disturbed how much people can defend someone doing wrong. He (Mgidlana) is doing wrong,” said Nehawu parliamentary branch chairman Sthembiso Tembe after the union’s general council meeting.

United Democratic Movement (UDM) Chief Whip Nqabayomi Kwankwa on Monday said he was surprised by Mbete’s response in the debate: “Her letter to me says something completely different.”

Kwankwa wrote to her last month requesting an investigation. Seen by Daily Maverick, Mbete’s reply says, “kindly note that the matter is receiving attention by the executive authority (presiding officers). A response will follow in due course.”

On 14 April Kwankwa wrote to the Speaker to raise serious financial management and internal control concerns over the trips to the UK and Scottish parliaments in late September 2015, which cost R940,622.04.

In our close scrutiny of the trip, we discovered that the financial controls of Parliament are extremely weak. For example, it boggles my mind that a junior manager (acting executive manager), who reports to Secretary to Parliament, authorised the trip. This occurred despite Parliament’s procurement delegation of authority policy giving division managers/deputy secretary/chief operations officer the mandate to procure goods and services up to the value of R250,000,” said the UDM chief whip. “I put it to you, Madam Speaker, that it is incredibly irregular to allow junior managers to approve expenses for their superiors.”

The trip to the Turkish parliament from 12 to 17 October 2015, followed by the Inter-parliamentary Union meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, cost another approximately R900,000.

Parliament has dismissed news reports as “baseless allegations” regarding these trips by Mgidlana and four senior managers, including five-star hotel stays, business class flights and chauffeur driven transport.

Daily Maverick has seen documents in which Mgidlana outlines “exchange visits” not only to the UK, Scottish and Turkish parliaments, but also to Germany, the US (“Institute of Futures”, “the Capitol Hill” and “UN compound”), Ghana, Tanzania, Kenya and Mozambique. Dated 16 September 2015, Mgidlana said the international trips had been budgeted for by the Office of the Secretary to Parliament, and warns: “The activities are budgeted for and if the exchange visits are not undertaken it will lead to under expenditure.”

The document emerged just days after Mbete told MPs Parliament had received R956-million less than requested, leaving it with a budget of R2.189-billion for the current financial year.

We thus have insufficient funds to implement in full, the annual performance plan as per Parliament’s strategic plan. Continued budget cuts undermine the effectiveness of Parliament to deal with increasingly complex oversight tasks,” said Mbete in her budget speech.

On Monday Nehawu described Mgidlana’s approach to the overseas tours as “fiscal dumping”, or the practice to spend allocated monies before the end of the financial year so that unspent funds do not have to be returned to the national coffers. The practice is generally frowned upon. “That is not a proper reason to go,” Tembe said.

If there was no action on its call for Mgidlana’s suspension and investigation by an independent person, the union may turn to the public protector.

However, Parliament has fingered Nehawu for driving “a political agenda” with the assistance of “specific print and online publications”. In a statement released on Saturday, headed “Notice of meeting unmasks political agenda” (in reference to Monday’s Nehawu meeting), Parliament said there was a campaign under way against Mgidlana.

This is a clear political agenda masquerading as a shop floor matter waged against Parliament and the Secretary to Parliament by individuals who have declared that they want to render important parliamentary business ‘unworkable’ and the institution ‘ungovernable’,” said the statement in the name of Parliament of RSA.

Citing Mbete’s statement that there was noting untoward about the trips (and Modise’s in the NCOP in the concurrent debate), the statement said Nehawu was in a fight with Parliament’s management including various “baseless allegations” targeting management overall and Mgidlana in particular to “impugn” his character.

Their fight is not about shop floor issues but in pursuit of political agendas and campaigns,” the statement said. “The revelation of ‘campaigns’ now gives lie to the carefully crafted media framing of what is emerging as a political campaign to destabilise Parliament and remove the Secretary to Parliament, who was duly appointed by the two Houses.”

Still, Parliament’s management has been hauled before the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) for failing to stick to agreements over the past five months. This includes what the union calls “unilateral” marking down of performance assessments – Mgidlana earlier this month publicly asserted management’s right to “moderate” – on the basis of which scores of employees have forfeited their bonuses. Other disputes revolve around D-band employees, which Parliament’s management regards as managers even though this category includes content advisors, protocol officials and legal advisors. They all report to unit and section heads, who are defined as managers in Parliament’s performance assessment policy.

These issues stem from Nehawu’s unprotected strike late last year over performance bonuses and conditions of employment. The union accused management of failing to stick to their March 2015 agreements. For about three weeks until 5 December, ePalamente sifuna imali. Asonwabanga! (Parliament, we want money. We are not happy)” echoed around the national legislature. Nehawu national office bearers arrived to take up the cudgels of its largest Western Cape branch; the union represents about two-thirds of parliamentary employees from white collar workers such as committee secretaries and those working in the document and translation services, to blue collar workers such as cleaning staff.

Parliament by its own admission has seen a worsening labour relations climate since Mgidlana took over the reins. In its performance report for the fourth quarter of the 2015/16 financial year (effectively the first three months of 2016) under the heading “employee relations incidents” it notes more than 300% increases in disputes from five to 18 and disciplinary proceedings from three to 11 in the 2015/15 financial year, compared to a year earlier. “Based on the number of external disputes lodged … there seems to be a lack of trust in internal processes for dispute resolution where parties are not willing to reach a compromise on their mandated position,” the 21-page says.

On Monday workers booed managers, who emerged from their own heated meeting in the Old Assembly Chamber, also the venue of the Nehawu gathering.

Concern abounds among parliamentary staff that the administration is simply biding time until MPs leave next week for an extended 10-week “constituency period” ahead of the 3 August local government elections. Away from the eyes of politicians, a clampdown is expected.

With the Nehawu parliamentary branch demand for Mgidlana’s suspension under way, it’s all eyes on the national Nehawu office-bearers to see if they will make good on their promise earlier this month to make Parliament “ungovernable”, and to involve provincial legislatures in such protests. Nehawu president Mzwandile Makwayiba has met Mbete several times to try to broker a political solution to the labour relations stalemate.

How the sour state of labour affairs will turn out remains to be seen. DM

Photo: Secretary to Parliament Gengezi Mgidlana (Parliament of South Africa via Flickr)


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