South Africa

Parliament: Secretary Gengezi Mgidlana’s dealings are under serious scrutiny – here’s why

By Marianne Merten 27 June 2017

Parliament’s audit committee has started hearing from various people as part of its investigation into various claims of mismanagement by Secretary to Parliament Gengezi Mgidlana. It got under way just over a week after Mgidlana went on special leave on 9 June at his request, according to Parliament’s public statement pending the investigation. The audit committee has been meeting behind closed doors since last Monday and people providing information have been asked to sign non-disclosure agreements. However, at least two who already appeared before the audit committee have refused to do so. By MARIANNE MERTEN.

That Parliament’s audit committee had been apprised of various complaints of mismanagement by the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) parliamentary branch emerged during the debate on Parliament’s budget at the end of May.

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… audit committee since last year,” said National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete, who is also ANC national chairperson, in closing the budget vote debate on 30 May.

Opposition parties had raised the prospect of no salary increases for staff, as wage negotiations that started in March 2017 stalled. Parliament’s administration cited lack of funds because National Treasury had not granted the requested allocations, and approved only R2.3-billion, or just over a billion rand less than requested.

The DA and EFF, in particular, fingered Mgidlana for this state of affairs at the national legislature. Or as EFF Chief Whip Floyd Shivambu put it: “We could see from far this guy is corrupt… He is a law unto himself. He does as he pleases.” Repeating that the party had not supported Mgidlana’s appointment from December 2014, Shivambu called for Mgidlana’s resignation or for Parliament to take action. “Mgidlana, who is protected by the Speaker, he disrespects workers… he gives himself bursaries and all sorts of things,” he said. “It’s not good workers of Parliament are striking against one man. We are being held hostage by one man.”

Two days later, on 1 June, Nehawu received official communication from the Office of the Speaker, seen by Daily Maverick, confirming that “various allegations” had been referred to the audit committee for an independent investigation. The audit committee consists of five members, independent of Parliament, appointed by the presiding officers in terms of the Financial Management of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures Act. That audit committee signed off on the administration’s financial, risk management and reporting mechanisms in the latest available annual report, covering the 2015/16 financial year, when Parliament received a clean audit.

It has taken some two years to get to this point, including a variety of correspondence by the union to the presiding officers – and an official complaint in July 2016 to the Public Protector. These claims centre on mismanagement on several fronts – from finances to bursaries, contraventions of internal policies, particularly travel, and the contention that Mgidlana has failed the security clearance requirement, according to Nehawu’s complaint to the Public Protector, which Daily Maverick has seen.

These matters have arisen amid simmering tensions around labour relations dating back to late 2015 when Nehawu went on a wildcat strike. Parliament has issued a number of statements, consistently, publicly dismissing claims of wrongdoing with regards to travel, staff appointments or bursaries and, on occasion, maintaining all has been done within the prescripts of policy.

It is not unreasonable to believe the audit committee has now been apprised of details on this range of issues raised not only by Nehawu, as Daily Maverick understands, but could not officially confirm, also by others within Parliament’s administration.

The terms of reference of the audit committee investigation remain unclear, as are its time frames. Parliament’s spokesperson Moloto Mothapo this week did not respond to Daily Maverick’s requests for comment on this, the conditions of Mgidlana’s special leave, and a range of other matters.

Special leave is different to suspension in that contact with the workplace is still possible. This was a concern raised by Nehawu at a meeting on June 9 in the wake of the official announcement of Mgidlana’s special leave and audit committee investigation. Two sources independently late last week told Daily Maverick the Secretary to Parliament was still using the institution’s car. Or as one put it: “The car is not here at Parliament.” No comment was received from Parliament on whether the use of the car was permitted during Mgidlana’s special leave.

However, former Parliamentary Protection Service (PPS) deputy head, Motlatsi Mokgatla, whose contract expired while he was on precautionary suspension from late July 2015, told Daily Maverick he did not sign the audit committee’s non-disclosure agreement, particularly as much it was dealing with was already in the public domain.

Mokgatla this week told the audit committee he was suspended for “challenging the abuse of authority by the Secretary and violation of policy”, particularly his opposition to the recruitment of ex-SAPS members as chamber support staff, or colloquially known as “bouncers”, evicting unruly MPs from the House, and Mgidlana’s use of blue lights. “We were suspended… Unfortunately I never got to have an opportunity before a disciplinary committee to answer.”

He said he wanted to be re-instated and answer to the charges of security breaches and matters relating to the PPS for which he and his boss Zelda Holtzman were suspended two years ago. In June 2016 Holtzman, who remains on suspension, was found guilty on three of 14 charges, according to City Press, the most serious being failure to compile a strategic or business plan for the PPS. Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on the Financial Management of Parliament earlier this year was told by Mgidlana that there had been efforts to reach a settlement, but this had been unsuccessful.

Nehawu parliamentary branch chairperson Sthembiso Tembe also appeared before the audit committee last week. He confirmed this, but added there was only a “no comment” at this stage in order not to prejudice the investigation. While Tembe confirmed he had not signed the non-disclosure agreement, the audit committee said deliberations were “private and confidential”. The union had, unsuccessfully, requested proceedings to be public, he added.

Given that according to Mbete, both in the House during Parliament’s 2017 budget vote and in communication from her office, the audit committee would independently investigate Nehawu’s complaints, it would not be unrealistic to expect the probe to consider Mgidlana’s travels, and management of staff matters like appointments and bursaries and the like.

Already at least some of these issues have jumped from the administrative terrain into the parliamentary area. Earlier this year, City Press and Sunday Times reported on a R1.1-million bursary application for the then newly appointed Chief Information Officer Unathi Mtya to study at Columbia University, and R30,743 for Mgidlana.

Parliament in a statement on February 19, 2017 described such claims of preferential treatment and a R1.1-million bursary as “baseless”, and said Mtya’s bursary considerations followed approval of the same by her previous employer, the State Information Technology Agency (Sita). According to News24, Mothapo said Parliament would only contribute “an amount equivalent to the cost of a similar course locally, which is just over R200,000”.

However, in response to a DA parliamentary question dated 24 February, 2017, Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services Siyabonga Cwele said: “Sita did not receive an application for a bursary nor award a bursary to Ms Unathi Mtya to study at the Columbia University in New York.”

Subsequently, Sita also issued a statement, seen by Daily Maverick, denying Mtya had ever been awarded a bursary. Daily Maverick has seen Parliament’s document of 2017 bursary applications, which lists Mtya against a R1,136,296 request to study for a Masters of Science Technology Management at Columbia University.

Since then it emerged Mtya was studying at Columbia University, but apparently at its Paris campus, although this could not be officially confirmed. On Instagram, on 23 June, 2017, Mtya posted a photo alongside the university’s banner, stating, “After the Masters Project defence…” Also posted are snapshots of Paris. Her LinkedIn profile also lists Columbia University studies 2016-2017 Master of Science, Technology Management.

From a media statement issued by Mgidlana on June 4, 2017, it also emerged the amount Parliament provided Mtya might more likely be R265,000. In that statement, Mgidlana outlines that two bursaries were awarded to senior management ranks, to which he and Mtya belong, totalling R295,743. Mgidlana has received a bursary of R30,743 for his Masters in Business Leadership at Unisa, according to documents seen by Daily Maverick.

Mothapo this week did not respond to requests for comment on, among other things, the total amount of Mtya’s bursary, who was acting in her position, when she was expected back at work and how it was possible she was employed in August 2016 without the post-graduate qualification stated in the job advert.

Parliament is on public record earlier this year that Mtya’s certificates post her BSc degree in business administration and management and management information systems were recorded as equivalent to a post-graduate qualification.

Also making it into the public domain was a March 2016 trip by Mgidlana and one of his staff to Zambia’s capital to attend an Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) meeting. DA Chief Whip John Steenhuisen raised this trip during his Parliament’s budget vote speech, saying: “In March last year he (Mgidlana) spent seven nights in a Lusaka Hotel at R21,000 a night, and enjoyed a rented limousine that cost R800 per hour, adding up to some R37,000 for the duration of his stay… This is of course on top of the blue light brigades, and VIP European and international travel. It seems when it comes to the Secretary to Parliament there is no destination too far or conference too obscure that he isn’t ready to pack his bags for.”

Documents seen by Daily Maverick show Parliament has been invoiced R279,350 for this trip between March 17 to 24, 2016. This includes R21,310 per night in the junior suite booked for Mgidlana, and R10,700 nightly for a deluxe room booked for Thembani Mbadlanyana, Executive Assistant (Research) in the Office of the Secretary to Parliament.

Questions are being asked in parliamentary corridors about these costs. A rough calculation shows the Mgidlana’s junior suite at last year March’s US dollar exchange rate of R12.77 to the dollar should not have cost much more than R10,000.

Mothapo did not respond to detailed questions on this matter, including how this discrepancy could have arisen and whether Parliament was investigating this instance with a view to recover funds if there was a case of overcharging.

Nehawu, in its complaint to the Public Protector, has also questioned why Mgidlana’s wife frequently has accompanied him on his travels.

Parliament’s “Reviewed Policy on Travel, Accommodation and Subsistence and Travel Allowance (S&T)”, seen by Daily Maverick, states the Secretary of Parliament “may” fly business class, “may be provided with a driver” and “may stay in a five (5) star hotel”.

While this policy details circumstances when an employee may travel with a spouse/partner or companion, it is silent on this with regards to a Secretary to Parliament. Section 8.12 reads:

An employee may be accompanied by his/her spouse/partner or companion at the expense of Parliament when:

a) An employee directly represents Parliament at an occasion in an official capacity.

b) An employee is invited in his/her official capacity to an occasion in which it is regarded necessary in the interests of Parliament that he/she be accompanied by his/her spouse/partner or companion.”

Mgidlana’s wife has accompanied him, including on travel to “security cluster meeting” at the end of July 2016, as per the official travel authorisation seen by Daily Maverick. It states tickets be issued for “Mr & Ms Mgidlana”. For this trip from July 30, 2016 to August 5, 2016, Parliament was invoiced R52,638.04 for the Mgidlana’s accommodation, and add-ons of R5,405.80, at the Michelangelo Hotel in Sandton, according to documents seen by Daily Maverick. However, it remains unclear how much Parliament paid for the Mercedes C Class also hired for that trip.

Mgidlana also was accompanied by his wife to Johannesburg on a trip whose purpose is stated as “UNDP, DPW, Sec Cluster Meeting” (United Nations Development Programme, Department of Public Works, security cluster meeting) from August 26, 2016 to September 2, 2016, according to official travel authorisations seen by Daily Maverick. Parliament was invoiced R45,782.84 for the Mgidlanas’ hotel accommodation, including R2,250.60 for “meals & drinks – levies”, at the Michelangelo Hotel. The costs for air travel and the hire of a Mercedes E Class could not be verified.

Mgidlana’s wife also accompanied him in April 2016 to “UNDF (United Nations Democracy Fund) meeting”, as per purpose of visit on the official travel authorisation, seen by Daily Maverick. On that trip from 21 April 2016 the Mgidlanas were accompanied by Mbadlanyana. All stayed at the Four Seasons, Westcliff, but while Mbadlanyana was booked on a return flight to Cape Town on 22 April, the travel authorisation notes the return journey to Cape Town for “Mr & Mrs Mgidlana” as 24 April 2016. For this particular trip Parliament was invoiced R26,597.34 for the Mgidlanas’ three-night stay at the Four Seasons Westcliff. The costs of Mbadlanyana’s stay could not be verified.

While the official travel authorisation reflects the hire of a “Mercedes E Class with chauffeur”, and a “shuttle for Mr Mbadlanyana”, Daily Maverick has not seen invoices for those logistics.

However, it emerges from available, but limited, travel authorisation documentation that Parliament was also invoiced just under R90,000 for two men whose names are known to Daily Maverick who have accompanied the Secretary to Parliament on some of these trips. It is understood these two men may be Mgidlana’s two bodyguards, but this could not be officially confirmed.

Mothapo this week did not respond to questions regarding the grounds for Mgidlana’s wife accompanying him to what appear to be work meetings, not “occasions” as per travel policy, nor on reasons why official travel documentation talks of “security cluster meetings”.

When Daily Maverick earlier this year requested comment from Parliament regarding Mgidlana attending security cluster meetings (at the time only the late July 2016 travel authorisation documents had emerged), its response on January 25 was: “The Secretary to Parliament (STP) does not attend security cluster meetings, as he is not a member of such a forum nor an official of the executive branch of the state. Such assertions are completely wrong, have no constitutional foundation or any basis in the public policy discourse.”

Parliament’s response went on: “Parliament convenes meetings with a wide variety of stakeholders in and outside of the state in order to deal with the implementation of its constitutional mandate. Any interpretation, suggestion or insinuation that the Parliament or any part thereof is a member of such a forum is completely wrong, and without any basis or foundation… Any suggestion that such engagements compromises [sic] Parliament’s ability to carry out its constitutional mandate can only be described as irresponsible and a serious distortion of the Constitution.”

Mothapo this week did not respond to requests for comment on whether the above still applied, and why “security cluster meeting” was stated as purpose of visit on two travel authorisation documents in late July and late August 2016.

Regardless of what unfolds in the audit committee, the Public Protector’s investigation or the oversight committee on Parliament’s financial management, there has been some good news for parliamentary staff.

Salary negotiations were revived, and led to an agreement on a 7.5% hike, backdated to 1 April, according to Saturday’s joint statement issued by “the management of Parliament of RSA and Nehawu”. Executive managers would not get any salary increase for 2017.

There was also agreement to work together to build sound labour relations and to address institutional challenges, including the under-funding of Parliament as one of the three arms of the state. Collaboration will also include matters of mutual interest that go beyond bread and butter issues,” said the joint statement.

While this agreement ends one contentious issue that emerged in Parliament’s budget vote debate last month, others that have simmered at a slow boil in Parliament’s administration are set to come before the Joint Standing Committee on the Financial Management of Parliament. At its meeting earlier in June, the committee decided to hold what was described as “extraordinary” meetings, on the “exceeding 40” institutional policies and human resource matters.

All this is a step in the right direction. But action is also required. 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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