Parliamentary officials accused of protecting managers over suicide saga

09 October 2019 - 17:31 By THABO MOKONE
The DA has slammed officials over their handling of Lennox Garane's suicide in the parliamentary precinct last year.
The DA has slammed officials over their handling of Lennox Garane's suicide in the parliamentary precinct last year.
Image: GCIS

Parliament continues to be haunted by the suicide of one of its officials, with the institution's political leaders now accused of protecting the executive managers implicated in the deadly affair.

This comes after Amos Masondo, the chairperson of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP), and Lechesa Tsenoli, the deputy speaker of the National Assembly, told MPs on Wednesday that they believed acting secretary Baby Tyawa and NCOP secretary Modibedi Phindela "could not be faulted" on how the managed events leading to the office suicide of Lennox Garane last year.

Masondo and Tsenoli "absolved" Tyawa and Phindela, despite the Public Service Commission (PSC) recommending that their fitness to hold their positions be tested. This is after the commission found they had acted negligently in managing personnel practices followed by parliament days before Garane committed suicide in his office over workplace unhappiness in September last year.

Masondo stunned the meeting of the joint-standing committee on the financial management of parliament when he announced that only the head of international relations, Job Sithole, would be subjected to a disciplinary hearing.

Sithole will face a charge of misconduct over Garane's death, while Phindela and Tyawa would be send to "leadership and development programmes".

Garane at the time reported directly to Sithole, who in turn reported to Phindela, who in turn took instructions from Tyawa.

Garane had accused Sithole, among a host of allegations, of unilaterally moving him from his original position to a job he did not want, and complained that Tyawa and Phindela did not act on his grievances against Sithole.

"Although the PSC in its findings raise, among others, the question of fitness and proficiency, overall the feeling of the executive authority is that Ms Tyawa cannot be faulted in the manner she handle the grievances [of] Mr Garane," Masondo told shocked opposition MPs.

"On the question of advocate Phindela, the report of the PSC could not find fault on advocate Phindela … The view of the executive authority, having listened to the report overall, is that advocate Phindela cannot be faulted for the manner in which he handled the grievances of Mr Garane."

But DA chief whip John Steenhuisen and his deputy Jacques Julius immediately attacked Masondo, accusing him of "cherry-picking" the recommendations of the PSC and sacrificing Sithole as "the fall guy", while protecting Phindela and Tyawa.

"I get the impression from Mr Masondo that he's wishing to focus on Mr Sithole and gloss over the other recommendations made against the other office bearers in this particular report - and I think it would be wrong to do that," said Steenhuisen.

"I don't think it would be appropriate for the executive authority to cherry-pick recommendations made in this report that suit them or individuals that they favour … I don't think it's correct that, without any form of inquiry, we're now prepared to absolve certain individuals and conduct certain processes against others."

Masondo did not rebut Steenhuisen in detail and simply said "there was no cherry-picking".

Tsenoli, when Steenhuisen pressed them on the issue, said they could not be expected to "swallow" the PSC recommendations as presented to them. This was despite the fact that they have been sitting on the PSC report since April - about seven months.

"Let's look at those recommendations as recommendations. If we vary them for whatever reason, we will account for varying them. But it's a responsibility we have, because we understand the dynamics in the institution and what we have to achieve as guided by yourselves," said Tsenoli.

"If we simply swallow all the recommendations as they are, even when we know otherwise, it will also not display appropriate rationale for managing things such as these."

ANC MPs came out in support of Masondo and Tsenoli, with the committee giving them until the end of November to come back with a progress report on the matter.

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