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Government 'will suffer irreparable harm' if suspension of public works DG Sam Vukela is lifted — Gungubele

26 April 2022 - 19:11
Suspended public works director-general Sam Vukela should not return to work as this would erode public trust and confidence in the state administration, says minister in the presidency Mondli Gungubele.
Suspended public works director-general Sam Vukela should not return to work as this would erode public trust and confidence in the state administration, says minister in the presidency Mondli Gungubele.
Image: Supplied

Minister in the presidency Mondli Gungubele is adamant that suspended public works director-general Sam Vukela should not return to work as this will erode public trust and confidence in the state administration.

His return would also result in “irreparable harm” to the department, Gungubele said in court papers filed at the labour court.  

This comes after the General Public Service Sector Bargaining Council (GPSSBC) ruled that Vukela was unfairly suspended and ordered his immediate return to work. 

Vukela has been on paid suspension for two years. He is accused of awarding irregular contracts for state funerals, including that of struggle stalwart Winnie Madikizela-Mandela — among other allegations.

“The allegations against the employee furthermore have the ability to impugn the reputation and credibility of the office of accounting officer of the department. The harm that could ensue from upliftment of the employee’s suspension will be irreparable,” said Gungubele.

The bargaining council ordered Gungubele and public works minister Patricia de Lille to lift the suspension after finding they committed unlawful labour practice by suspending Vukela beyond the 60-day period prescribed in clause 2.7(2)(c) of the senior management service (SMS) handbook.

“The award stands to be reviewed and set aside because the commissioner made material errors of law when concluding that the appropriate functionary in terms of the SMS handbook (being the disciplinary chairperson) had not extended the employee’s suspension, which resulted in the suspension automatically lapsing after 60 days from the date of the initial suspension,” said Gungubele. 

The minister said the arbitrator at the bargaining council, Katlholo Wabile, failed to consider concerns of serious wrongdoing by Vukela which subsequently affected the trust relationship between employer and employee and between him and his co-employees.

“The commissioner [Wabile] has also not considered the relevant issue that the employee is a public servant entrusted with public money and that continuing to entrust him in circumstances where there are serious, credible allegations of maladministration and abuse of state funds may seriously erode public trust and confidence in the state administration.  

“The failure to consider these relevant considerations and the weight given to irrelevant or substantial considerations has resulted in the decision of the commissioner being defective,” said Gungubele.   

The minister said the award was so unreasonable that “a reasonable commissioner informed on these considerations would not come to the conclusion he did” and for this reason was asking the court to set it aside. 

“I am advised and submit that irreparable harm will invariably result if there is a possibility that the underlying cause (award) may ultimately be removed.”

Gungubele further charged that Wabile committed a gross irregularity and exceeded his powers in several aspects including that he: 

  • gave insufficient weight to relevant evidence and/or drew conclusions that were not supported by law, logic or the material before him; 
  • failed to properly evaluate the evidence; and
  • misconstrued the applicable legal principles and in the result produced an unreasonable award.  

If Vukela is allowed back into his position, his return would be of no use as the disciplinary charges hanging over his head persist, said Gungubele.

“The employee will suffer no harm of any kind if a stay of enforcement is granted. Returning to the workplace at this stage will not clear his name or reputation given that the disciplinary allegations against him have not been abandoned.  

“He will furthermore continue to receive his full salary and benefits,” he said.  

Vukela has a contentious relationship with the department, having being fired as acting director-general and accounting officer in 2013 for the irregular leasing of office space for the police in Pretoria. That deal, and subsequent investigations, resulted in the removal of Bheki Cele as national police commissioner. Vukela was reinstated after a controversial arbitration award in 2017, and was given R2m in back pay, BusinessLIVE reported. 

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