Tough choice for Cyril Ramaphosa in R30m fisheries row

Agriculture minister writes to president in row over official

24 June 2018 - 00:02 By CAIPHUS KGOSANA

President Cyril Ramaphosa could be forced to choose between Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Senzeni Zokwana and his director-general, Michael Mlengana, as the pair engage in a stand-off over the affairs of the department.
The president's spokeswoman, Khusela Diko, this week told the Sunday Times that Ramaphosa had received a letter from Zokwana asking him to intervene in the spat. Diko declined to discuss details of the saga, saying only that "the president is handling the matter".
But those with intimate knowledge of the spat said they expected Ramaphosa would in the end be forced to choose between the two. The president's ultimate decision, they said, was complicated by Zokwana's political profile as chairman of the SACP, which makes it difficult to act against him, especially on the eve of an election.
The SACP campaigned vociferously for Ramaphosa's election to the highest office in the land.An SACP leader who is a confidant of Zokwana said: "The director-general has overplayed his hand. He will lose because in the end it will come to a political decision - and we know how that will go."
The minister stripped Mlengana of all his powers this week, accusing him of abusing his powers after he ignored instructions from the minister not to suspend deputy director-general in charge of fisheries, Siphokazi Ndudane.
Mlengana placed Ndudane on suspension after accusing her of paying R30-million to private legal firms when she could have used state attorneys at no cost to the taxpayer. He also questioned a missing payment of R55-million that a US court ordered convicted crayfish poacher Arnold Bengis to pay to the South African government as restitution.
Zokwana had warned his director-general not to suspend Ndudane, saying officials at that level did not report to the director-general but to the minister.
When this was ignored, Zokwana wrote a formal communiqué to staff declaring that he had "withdrawn all delegation of authority conferred in the head of department [Mlengana]".He wrote: "I have advised both the Presidency and the Department of Public Service and Administration of my decision to withdraw delegation of authority from the head of department."
Ndudane returned to work the day after Zokwana stripped the director-general of his executive authority.
Zokwana's spokesman, Khaye Nkwanyana, confirmed that Ndudane had returned to work as per the minister's instruction.
He said Mlengana was still in the employ of the department but could not perform his functions without first seeking the minister's approval. "The director-general continues to work, but with the withdrawal of the delegated powers to take decisions, he has to get approval from the minister on any decision."
Mlengana could not be reached for comment. 
But a well-placed source in government, who is privy to the matter, said Zokwana's actions would be deemed illegal if the director-general were to mount a legal challenge against him being made a lame duck."Where does he get the executive authority to withdraw the delegated powers of his director-general? These powers are not delegated by him but by the president, so where does he get this authority?" said the source.
It is not the first time a director-general has gone to battle with a minister over delegated powers.
Home Affairs Director-General Mkuseli Apleni was suspended in September by then-minister Hlengiwe Mkhize, who accused him of gross misconduct. Apleni approached the High Court in Pretoria to have his suspension set aside. The court ruled in his favour, saying Mkhize had no lawful authority to suspend Apleni as she was relying on a flawed delegation of authority issued by former president Thabo Mbeki in 1999.
Mlengana himself approached the courts when Zokwana first suspended him, in July last year. The court also ruled in Mlengana's favour, saying the minister had no authority to suspend him as such powers were vested in the president.
Section 12(1)(a) of the Public Service Act vests powers to suspend or initiate disciplinary proceedings against a director-general solely in the president. Mlengana returned to work in April.

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