Fikile Mbalula irregularly appointed his advisers, spent millions on their salaries — Mkhwebane

30 June 2021 - 18:05 By nomahlubi sonjica
The public protector has found that transport minister Fikile Mbalula irregularly appointed advisers without the approval of public service and administration minister Senzo Mchunu. File photo.
The public protector has found that transport minister Fikile Mbalula irregularly appointed advisers without the approval of public service and administration minister Senzo Mchunu. File photo.
Image: MICHAEL PINYANA

Transport minister Fikile Mbalula irregularly appointed advisers and paid them millions in salaries without public service and administration minister Senzo Mchunu's approval, an investigation by the public protector’s office has found.

On Wednesday, public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane released 17 reports that stemmed from investigations her office had conducted. Among those is an investigation into improper conduct in the appointment of three ministerial advisers in Mbalula’s department.

Mkhwebane said her office had received a complaint from a group calling themselves the “anonymous concerned members of staff” in the transport department, who alleged that  Mbalula and director-general Alec Moemi had irregularly appointed advisers.

“The officials so appointed were alleged to be, among others, Messrs L Venkile, K Khoza and B Mpondo and Ms T Mpondo,” Mkhwebane said.

The allegations, Mkhwebane said, were that the advisers were appointed without prior confirmation by Mchunu.

“With regard to Mpondo, questions were also raised about his secondment to the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa).

“In the case of Ms Mpondo, it was alleged that she was appointed immediately after the elections as a parliamentary liaison officer in the ministry at the level of deputy-director while she only had a matric certificate,” said Mkhwebane.

She said it was also alleged that when Mpondo subsequently completed her diploma in administration in April 2020, Moemi had issued an instruction that she be elevated to the position of senior manager.

There were four main issues identified:

  • whether the appointments of Venkile, Khoza and Mpondo were contrary to the provisions of the Public Service Act and other prescripts applicable to the national department of transport;
  • whether Venkile and Khoza were irregularly paid salaries equivalent to those of a deputy director-general (DDG) even though their appointments were not approved by the minister of public service and administration;
  • whether Mpondo’s secondment to Prasa was contrary to the provisions of the Public Service Act, and other prescripts applicable to the department; and
  • whether Mpondo was elevated to the position of senior manager contrary to the provisions of the Public Service Act and other prescripts applicable to the department.

“The investigation revealed that the appointments of Venkile, Khoza and Mpondo were contrary to the provisions of the Public Service Act and other prescripts applicable to the department,” said Mkhwebane.

The investigation also revealed that Venkile and Khoza were irregularly paid salaries which were equivalent to that of deputy-director general even though their appointments were not approved by Mchunu.

Venkile and Khoza were paid salaries ranging between R1.4m and R1.5m, Mkhwebane said.

Their offers in respect of contracts of appointment are dated June 1 2019 and March 21 2019. Mchunu apparently approved them only on August 27 2019 and November 11 2020, respectively.

“Venkile has undertaken to pay back the money determined as a salary overpayment. Minister Mbalula and Moemi undertook to recover all overpayments that have been effected on Khoza’s salary.

“The investigation further revealed that Mpondo’s secondment to Prasa was done contrary to the provisions of the Public Service Act, and other prescripts applicable to the department.”

Mkhwebane said her office did not find any irregularities in the appointment of Mpondo to the position of director: parliamentary and cabinet support in Mbalula’s office.

In her remedial action, Mkhwebane called on Mbalula to take “urgent and appropriate” steps to ensure that when making future special adviser appointments, he submits proposals and/or recommendations for the appointment to Mchunu.

“He must also see to it that all future contracts of employment, performance agreements and security clearance of special advisers are submitted to the minister of public service and administration for record purposes as required by the dispensation policy.”

Mkhwebane said Moemi should take urgent and appropriate steps to ensure that all the overpayments, salaries and emoluments that were paid to Venkile by the department before his position as special adviser was approved by Mchunu were recovered in full.

“He [Mbalula] must also ensure that the department recovers in full and/or enters into a repayment agreement with Khoza to recover all outstanding overpayments that were made to him as a result of the remuneration irregularly received before the concurrence of his remuneration level by the minister of public service and administration.

“The minister of public service and administration must take urgent and appropriate steps to ensure that all ministers and deputy ministers are aware and trained in the procedures and processes to be followed in the appointment of ministerial special advisers.”

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