February 17, 2019

Will Parliament now clean up its own mess?

Parliament appears to be trying to distance itself from the looming disciplinary hearing against its suspended Secretary to Parliament (STP), Gengezi Mgidlana, who has deeply embarrassed the institution by being accused of a series of allegations of abuse of power and financial mismanagement.

For a long time staff, faced with highly questionable governance within the institution, kept asking where are our political leaders, Speaker of the National Assembly Baleka Mbete and NCOP Chairperson Thandi Modise. As the Presiding Officers together they form Parliament’s Executive Authority, which places them at the very highest position of power in the institution.

It was known that they had been meetings with the STP, and receiving regular reports about his alleged abuse of power and financial misconduct from disgruntled staff, mostly via the parliamentary branch of the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu).

Their months of silence rocked the precinct, until in June 2017 they announced that the STP was being sent on extended leave, and an investigation was underway.

Audit Committee report dynamite, exposes a Parliament that has been under the control of highly questionable leadership.

In terms of the 2009 Financial Management of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures Act, the Executive Authority has to promptly investigate any allegations of financial misconduct by the STP who is also Parliament’s Accounting Officer. The Act clearly states that if the investigation turns up any matter for concern, the Executive Authority is required to take immediate disciplinary action.

On the instructions of the Executive Authority, the parliamentary Internal Audit Committee was authorised to conduct an investigation. Its findings were kept tightly under wraps, but before the end of the year the word was out that the STP had been suspended and faced a disciplinary hearing.

In the latest twist to the ongoing saga, Parliament now appears to be disowning the Audit Committee report. Questioned this week about developments on the disciplinary action, Parliament’s Spokesperson Moloto Mothapo said the report “was not released by Parliament”.

His fairly cryptic comment continued, “The institution not being its source, it is thus not in a position to make any reflections on its contents at this stage.”

There does seem to be some dispute over whether a report from the Internal Audit Committee can be used as evidence in a disciplinary hearing, and the Presiding Officers don’t seem all that sure themselves.

What is not in dispute is that the report is dynamite, and exposes a Parliament that since December 2014 has been under the control of highly questionable leadership. Every effort had been made to keep the report’s findings tightly under wraps, but in a hasty attempt by Mgidlana late in April to seek an interdict to halt his disciplinary hearing, he submitted the report to the court, applying for it to be reviewed and set aside.

He is not the kind of man who is likely to slip up, but whatever the reason the result was that the Audit Committee’s report, as part of the court record, was released into the public domain. For a few days the massive and explosive document was available through the “wetransfer” application, until it inexplicably came up with a message saying it had been deleted and was not available any more.

By then it was too late. The Audit Committee’s almost 250 pages of shocking allegations were out there. Some of it is was not new – rumours had already done the rounds of the STP awarding himself a R71,000 ex gratia payment, even though he was not entitled to it as he had been employed by Parliament for barely three months.

There was the R30,000 bursary awarded to the STP by his Human Resources Executive (HRE), who over-ruled the decision of the Bursary Committee (who had to reject dozens of staff applications due to financial constraints). The HRE gave the flimsy reason that the Bursary Committee was junior to the STP and therefore could not make decisions for him. The HRE, however, could go right ahead, even though he too was subordinate to the STP.

And of course it is well known that the STP dispensed with Parliament’s three-quote rule when it came to travel expenses, along with the rule that determines when his spouse may accompany him during his travels, at the taxpayers’ expense. Together, STP and his wife ran up a travel bill that almost hit R4million in his two and a half years at the helm.

There are pages and pages in the Audit Committee’s report, including much that is not widely known, about staff members demoted, appointments made that disregarded parliamentary procedures, and procurements that failed to comply with legislation.

With or without this report, the disciplinary hearing will proceed. It’s almost a year since this saga began, and what started as rumours have now become public allegations.

The only question now is whether Parliament’s disciplinary machinery will drive the process and cleanse Parliament of damaging forces that have for too long prevented it from living up to its role as the People’s Parliament, for staff and public alike.

Moira Levy

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  • Author: Moira Levy
Last modified on Tuesday, 08 May 2018 01:42

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