South Africa

South Africa

Nehawu demands suspension of Secretary to Parliament Gengezi Mgidlana

Nehawu demands suspension of Secretary to Parliament Gengezi Mgidlana

Parliament’s branch of the National Education Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) wants Secretary to Parliament Gengezi Mgidlana suspended by the end of the week. Tuesday’s call comes amid escalating tensions over stalled salary negotiations, and is the latest twist in long-standing soured labour relations and a series of grievances the union took to the public protector last year. Presiding officers, National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete and National Council of Provinces (NCOP) chairperson Thandi Modise, who both publicly undertook last week that there could be no staff salary increases, are now between a rock and a hard place. By MARIANNE MERTEN.

The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) at the national legislature on Tuesday asked why Secretary to Parliament Gengezi Mgidlana appeared to be “protected”, given long-standing grievances against him.

In July 2016 the union finally took its complaints about Mgidlana’s abuse of power and mismanagement to the public protector, including the use of blue lights, international travel such as the benchmarking trips to other parliaments at a cost of R1.8-million, a R71,000 ex gratia payment received just a few months into the job, and questions over his qualifications and security clearance. City Press and TimesLive last month reported that the public protector’s investigation is ongoing, and that Parliament had requested an extension to a deadline to supply a range of documents.

Further complaints – it is understood this would include a bursary Mgidlana received and his chairing of the special bid adjudication committee – would be submitted to the public protector and as would all grievances to other investigations, announced Nehawu, which at Parliament represents the overwhelming number of the around 1,300 employees from cleaners to white collar workers in the committee, translation and document sections.

We want to assure him [Mgidlana] that we have irrefutable hardcore evidence to prove our case and kick him out of Parliament because he doesn’t deserve to be here,” said Nehawu parliamentary branch chairperson Sthembiso Tembe. “We cannot keep mum when Mr Mgidlana continues to damage the decorum of Parliament and worsening labour relations through his authoritarian style of management and ultra-arrogance.”

The union was on Friday informed by the Office of the Speaker that Parliament’s audit committee was looking into complaints against Mgidlana. This followed National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete’s statement in closing last Tuesday’s Parliament budget vote debate that “around all the allegations and grievances against the Secretary to Parliament, the matters raised, in fact, by various members of Nehawu in particular… we have been interacting with the internal audit committee since last year”.

According to Section 67(2) of the 2009 Financial Management of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures Act “the executive authority [presiding officers] must investigate promptly any allegation of financial misconduct against the accounting officer [Secretary to Parliament], unless it is obviously unfounded; and if the investigation warrants such a step, institute disciplinary proceedings promptly and in accordance with any applicable systems and procedures”.

On Tuesday Nehawu at Parliament said Mgidlana must be put on precautionary suspension, dismissing what it called his request for special leave, pending an investigation by the audit committee. “Failure to do that lends credence to the view that Mgidlana is untouchable and is accorded preferential treatment.”

Previous Secretary to Parliament Zingile Dingani was suspended pending an investigation, which ultimately led to his dismissal in September 2012 over using R186,000 of Parliament’s funds, described as a salary advance, to build a security wall at his home.

Parliament’s spokesperson Moloto Mothapo did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday afternoon regarding the union’s call for Mgidlana’s suspension.

While Nehawu’s parliamentary branch had on March 31 asked the presiding officers to “urgently” suspend Mgidlana pending the investigation by the audit committee, according to a letter seen by Daily Maverick, the union decided to go public with the call following Sunday’s statement by the Secretary to Parliament.

In that statement, Mgidlana said the union had “resorted to distortions, character assassinations and falsehoods in the media”, “misleading, baseless and unnecessary propagation of untruths” and “blatant falsehoods” with regards to the salary negotiations and other grievances.

Pointing out Parliament’s financial hardships – its R2.2-billion allocation was about R1-billion short of what was requested – Mgidlana added: The 2017/18 cut in the budget allocation, in particular, has had a disastrous effect on Parliament’s compensation fund – a category of budget allotment from which staff remuneration is paid.”

Any insinuation that Parliament has decided against salary increments is erroneous and without any factual basis. The prevailing financial challenges confronting the institution cannot be solved by one party alone,” said the Secretary to Parliament in Sunday’s statement, adding that “with a constructive union that has an appetite for meaningful engagement, we will surmount these challenges.

It is unfortunate that the union leadership has thus far not demonstrated any desire for constructive and meaningful engagement, despite Parliament’s efforts to reach out. Instead, it has resorted to distortions, character assassinations and falsehoods in the media.”

Mgidlana in Sunday’s statement dismissed Nehawu’s complaints, saying “no shred of evidence has been produced to back up such allegations or demonstrate violation of policy” and that Mgidlana had “suffered unfair and baseless public crucifixion regarding his overseas travels”, which all complied with policy and legislation.

In an aside, Sunday’s statement made by Mgidlana was signed off, “Issued by the Parliament of the Republic of South Africa”, but according to Chapter 4 of the Constitution, “Parliament consists of the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces (NCOP)”, whose members can be elected from among “every citizen who is qualified to vote…”

But on Tuesday the union dismissed Mgidlana’s Sunday statement as “spurious”. And what emerged could not have been a more different picture of the salary negotiations.

Describing these as “fruitless tea drinking sessions”, Nehawu said that while the union had tabled its 10.3% demand in March, Parliament had yet to make a counteroffer. At a meeting on April 7 Parliament simply raised questions on the demand without a counteroffer as also happened at their meeting of 16 May, when the national legislature told the union there was no money for salary increases.

This was followed up by an official communication by Parliament dated 22 May, seen by Daily Maverick, saying, “The swelling of employment cost cannot be allowed to continue uncontrolled as it is a sign of inefficiency and continues to threaten Parliament’s reputation in the eyes of the funders and the public.”

According to this letter, National Treasury allocated R785-million for salaries, against a current wage bill of R887-million, and “it would be irrational to use funds appropriated for goods and services to pay salaries of employees”.

It is not clear whether the inadequate salary allocations are the result of National Treasury cuts, or whether Parliament has simply not argued sufficiently to maintain its current salary bill in its submissions to the national budget process that starts in June the preceding year.

However, what is clear is there are consequences as over 300 staff positions have been frozen. During Parliament’s budget vote debate, House Chairman Cedric Frolick, who is responsible for committees, said 47 vacancies among committee staff and eight unfilled posts at the National Assembly Table, the staff supporting presiding officers, had created hardships.

The frozen posts were confirmed by Mgidlana on Sunday, saying this was a result of Parliament’s inadequate funding. However, in February Mgidlana announced that Parliament had filled all senor management posts and had reduced the overall vacancy rate to 4.3% in 2017. Nehawu at Parliament took issue with this, saying the calculations were misleading as they were not based on the funded posts of 1,700, but currently filled jobs ignoring the 328 frozen vacant posts. This meant the actual vacancy rate stood at about 19%.

The presiding officers are in a tough spot. It was politically embarrassing that opposition parties in last week’s Parliament budget vote debate raised the prospect of no salary increases for parliamentary staff, low staff morale and terse labour relations. The EFF and DA also sharply criticised how Mgidlana was doing his job.

In closing the debate Mbete said staff were Parliament’s best asset. “As presiding officers, we are very clear that we cannot have a situation where staff do not get an increase. We have said that very clearly… We have directed management to find money. We have also instructed the Secretary to Parliament to engage the National Treasury, which he is doing.”

In doing so Mbete – her NCOP counterpart delivered a similar message in the separate debate – nailed their colours to the mast, Parliament’s financial challenges notwithstanding. With Nehawu’s public call for Mgidlana’s suspension pending the audit committee’s investigation, the next few days will be important in this long-standing saga at Parliament. DM

Photo: Then Director for Strategy and Knowledge Management for the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) Mr. Gengezi Mgidlana addressing the Plenary at the 36th session of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS), FAO headquarters (Plenary Hall). 12 October 2010, Rome. Photo by FAO.


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