Parliament dismisses 'falsehoods' by former staff about toxicity at work

22 January 2019 - 19:43
By Ernest Mabuza
Parliament has dismissed claims by former staff that that they quit due to a toxic environment.
Image: Frédéric Soltan/Corbis via Getty Images Parliament has dismissed claims by former staff that that they quit due to a toxic environment.

Parliament has expressed concern about a public campaign by former staffers who claimed they were forced to quit because of a toxic environment at the legislature.

Parliamentary manager Lennox Garane committed suicide in his locked office at the legislature in 2018. The circumstances around his death are being independently probed by the Public Service Commission.

Parliament said in a statement on Tuesday that since beginning its inquiry, the commission had interacted with various people who could help with its investigation.

“We have noted with disappointment and concern a public campaign by a group of former staff members pertaining to both the tragedy and the circumstances of their departure from parliament," said the legislature.

Some civil society organisations had been roped into the campaign.

"Parliament denounces these individuals’ attempt to exploit the tragic situation for narrow personal ends and to unduly influence the work of the commission.”

Parliament said none of the people listed as former staff members had left because of  bullying, as alleged in a document issued publicly by the group. 

“The opportunistic claims made by this group, that they left parliament due to its ‘toxicity', cannot be backed by any factual evidence.”

The reasons for their departure were diverse, as supported by their resignation letters, exit interviews and CCMA rulings, parliament said.

As an example, it cited the case of Martina Della Togna, whose five-year fixed-term contract of employment as multimedia production manager had come to an end on  January 31 2016.

It said Della Togna had wanted her contract to be renewed for another five years and had taken the matter to the CCMA.

“Her case was dismissed. Since her departure from parliament, Ms Della Togna has applied several times to rejoin parliament in various capacities, including the post she formerly held. Unfortunately, her applications were not successful.”

Parliament said despite its challenges, it was satisfied  it continued to be an employer of choice for many.

It said this was demonstrated by a range of indicators such as its attractiveness to more highly skilled and competent knowledge workers, low staff turnover rates and a rating as a preferred employer by the majority of staff in an independently conducted survey.

“Parliament staff retention rates are among the best in both the public and private sectors in South Africa, registering as low as 1.49% staff turnover rate in the current financial year.”

• Della Togna has subsequently requested the right to reply to the allegations made in this statement by parliament: 

“A year ago a collective of former managers from the parliament administration responded to the call from the family of Lennox Garane to testify in public about abuses of power in the parliament administration that led to his death by protest suicide.

“The former managers and I then publicly briefed civil society organisations on the serial abuse of power we experienced at the hands of the parliament administration, causing us all to leave our good jobs in service to this country.

“The fifth parliament responded to our testimony in typical bullying fashion by issuing a press statement defaming each of us with the headline referring to our testimony as falsehoods.

“Since this press release the Public Service Commission has issued a damning report confirming rampant abuse of power within the parliament administration, the public protector has issued a finding against the parliament administration for abuse of power, and after a two-year disciplinary process, both the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces eventually fired the secretary to parliament unanimously.

“Most notable of all, the commission on state capture announced its intention to focus on the role of parliament in state capture, an important line of inquiry given the extent to which especially the fifth parliament aided and abetted the serial state-sanctioned corruption which has crippled the South African economy and stolen the livelihoods of too many of its citizens.

“All of these developments confirm that our testimony as former managers was and remains based on real documented facts, and not based on falsehoods as alleged by parliament’s press statement.”

• This story was updated on March 10 2020.