The recommended summary dismissal of its secretary, Gengezi Mgidlana, parliamentary processes and potential potholes

By Marianne Merten 12 September 2019

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). The CFS is a high-level intergovernmental body focusing on world food security. It acts as a key UN multi-stakeholder forum for discussion, coordination and policy convergence aimed at addressing the roots of hunger and malnutrition. In 2009 the CFS initiated reforms aimed at involving a wider range of participants, including civil society, and increasing its ability to promote polices that reduce food insecurity. Photo: Flickr/FAO

Parliament’s presiding officers have accepted a recommendation to summarily dismiss suspended Secretary to Parliament Gengezi Mgidlana. It was a disciplinary process lasting more than two years, but it has not quite yet reached the end of the road.

The announcement was short and came at the end of Wednesday’s lunchtime meeting of the Joint Standing Committee on the Financial Management of Parliament. But it was an announcement which left little doubt that the suspended Secretary to Parliament, Gengezi Mgidlana, had run out of room – at least as far as Parliament’s Speaker and Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) are concerned.

On four of the seven charges, he was found guilty of serious misconduct with a sanction of summary dismissal. The other two charges (he was found guilty on) were final warnings,” National Assembly Speaker Thandi Modise told MPs, adding later: “We have decided to accept the recommendations.”

The exact charges Mgidlana was facing have never been spelt out in detail since he went on special leave at his request in June 2017, or after his official suspension in November 2017 on the back of Parliament’s internal audit committee investigation report on various claims of what was widely described as an abuse of power and maladministration.

The allegations investigated by the (audit) committee included Mr Mgidlana’s receipt of an ex gratia payment of R71,000, improper allocation of a study bursary, improper travel management, and irregular procurement of services,” said Parliament’s statement on 8 November 2017 when it announced the presiding officers’ decision to formally suspend the Secretary to Parliament. Subsequent statements also included references to violations of the National Road Traffic Act.

On Wednesday it emerged that of the 13 disciplinary counts, one was withdrawn due to lack of evidence. Mgidlana was acquitted on five counts “because the policy was not very clear”. He was found guilty on seven charges, four of which carry the penalty of immediate sacking. The other guilty verdicts carried the sanction of final written warnings.

Daily Maverick has learnt that the independent disciplinary proceedings report had been submitted last week, and consultations ensued. As NCOP Chairperson Amos Masondo was out of the country, a little delay was to ensure the final decision was taken with all T’s crossed and I’s dotted.

And other consultations happened. “We have been taking an (legal) opinion on this. We are on secure ground,” Modise told MPs in what is a signal of just how tortuous this matter has been.

For Mgidlana, this is not the end. “I believe that the outcome of the DC is wrong in fact and law. I’m taking advise (sic) on the matter and challenge the decision of the employer in the appropriate forum,” Mgidlana told Daily Maverick via SMS and email.

But the clock is ticking. In just two-and-a-half months, on 30 November 2019, Mgidlana’s five-year contract that has earned him R2.8-million a year as Secretary to Parliament will come to an end. As will Parliament’s obligations as employer, even if Mgidlana were to take legal action. Modise indicated that it would be his right, as it was any South African’s, to approach the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).

While the presiding officers have decided to accept the disciplinary hearing recommendation of Mgidlana’s summary dismissal, it must now go before both the National Assembly and NCOP. As both Houses had approved the appointment from 1 December 2014, both would have to approve his dismissal. That would unfold through a motion before each of the Houses for adoption.

We will be putting into motion a process that will have the two Houses dealing with a motion on this matter because the two Houses appoint the Secretary to Parliament,” the Speaker told the committee.

Even if Mgidlana’s contract was expiring shortly, Parliament could not just let the final 10 weeks tick by given the time and resources spent on the disciplinary proceedings, Modise said in response to a question from DA Chief Whip John Steenhuisen.

The implication of a person being found to merit a summary dismissal is that this is not somebody you allow to stay longer… If we don’t do anything it would mean… he’s employable somewhere without a record of what happened.”

Modise later told the Daily Maverick it had been a “bitter decision”, but was needed. “Sometimes you have to take decisions because they are necessary, not because you want to… Decisions to protect an institution.”

Steenhuisen, in a statement, said the DA would request Parliament scrutinise the report once it’s tabled in Parliament, “to determine the possibility of laying criminal charges against Mgidlana”.

The DA will continue to fight hard to ensure Parliament manages the public’s money in a responsible and transparent fashion, and that corrupt officials are dealt with in a zero-tolerance manner.”

National Health, Allied and Education Union (Nehawu) Parliament Branch Chairperson Sthembiso Tembe told Daily Maverick that Modise’s announcement was in line with what was expected. “We feel it could have been done earlier, but better late than never.”

It’s a sentiment ANC Deputy Chief Whip Doris Dlakude had expressed in the committee meeting earlier on Wednesday.

Nehawu was among the first to raise concerns over Mgidlana’s way of managing Parliament’s administration, as MPs also became increasingly critical. In the 2017 Parliament Budget vote debate, then-Speaker Baleka Mbete was embarrassed as several opposition parties criticised Mgidlana.

In the 2016 Budget vote debate, Mbete dismissed opposition criticism over R1.8-million international benchmark trips to Turkey, England and Scotland that a quickly published document, “Report on the 2015 benchmarking study tour to Turkish, Scottish and United Kingdom Parliaments”, justified as being in line with Parliament’s mandate.

After two years of tensions at the national legislature, in May 2017 claims against Mgidlana’s abuse of power and maladministration formally became the subject of scrutiny by Parliament’s internal audit committee. From June 2017, witnesses before it included Nehawu, former staff and current employees, in proceedings held behind closed doors and with non-disclosure agreements the norm.

Daily Maverick at the time detailed tens of thousands of rand spent on travel, including some trips accompanied by his wife to so-called “security cluster meetings” as well as two bodyguards that Mgidlana had had assigned to him at the time.

Just as the internal audit investigation was conducted under a cover of secrecy, its investigation report was kept under wraps. In November 2017, after Mgidlana’s suspension, the Joint Standing Committee on the Financial Management of Parliament had agreed to access the report without cellphones, pens or paper.

But, just over four months later, it was all made public. In April 2018 Mgidlana went to court to challenge – unsuccessfully – the audit committee investigation and report in the Western Cape High Court, and attached the report to his court papers.

That internal audit committee investigation, as Daily Maverick reported, outlined unlawful use of blue lights, and speeding, the hire of unqualified personnel and what it called “extravagant” travel amounting to R3.9-million, including luxury hotel stays, R651,000 in chauffeur and transit transport, and R330,000 in tours while on overseas travel.

Also, the report found “a culture of non-compliance” with Parliament’s travel policies, while the late 2015 international benchmark trips costing a R1.8-million were found to have been approved against institutional policy. It said Mgidlana had not been entitled to the R71,484 ex-gratia payment just months into the job, and that this, alongside similar payments to 11 managers amounted to unauthorised expenditure.

While the 2017 internal audit committee report was the foundation for the disciplinary proceedings against Mgidlana, it’s unclear exactly which matters led to the 13 counts with which he was charged.

What became clear on Wednesday is that the independent disciplinary hearing found Mgidlana guilty on seven counts, four of which carry the sanction of summary dismissal, and that Parliament’s Speaker and NCOP Chairperson have accepted the necessity for Mgidlana’s instant dismissal.

Mgidlana would be the second Secretary to Parliament to be dismissed in democratic South Africa. A predecessor, Zingile Dingani, was sacked over requesting in December 2011 a R180,000 advance for a home security fence. On 6 September 2012, then deputy Speaker Nomaindia Mfeketo announced that a disciplinary panel had found Dinangi guilty on two of nine counts, and recommended immediate dismissal.

Then, it was a comparatively quietly quick affair. What will happen now remains to be seen. But Modise and Masondo have made their stance clear in accepting the disciplinary recommendation of Mgidlana’s summary dismissal. DM


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