May 21, 2019

Latest twist in ongoing parliamentary security dispute

After a long silence, the former deputy head of the Parliamentary Protection Services (PPS), who was placed on precautionary suspension back in 2015, has resurfaced demanding the opportunity to clear his name.

Matlatsi Mokgatla, along with PPS boss Zelda Holtzman, were suspended amid allegations of security breaches after objecting to the recruitment of police officers in the PPS and questioning the appointment of a junior security official as the person in charge of police deployment in the Chamber.

More publicly they had embarrassed Parliament by questioning why Secretary to Parliament at the time, Gengezi Mgidlana, had been allowed to make use of PPS cars and drivers, with flashing blue lights, breaking the speed limit and racing through red traffic lights. This is a privilege usually reserved only for the President, possibly Cabinet ministers and prominent visiting dignitaries.

Mokgatla wants proof of the allegations of his security breaches.

They were escorted from Parliamentary while their computers were removed and their offices searched, and informed that an investigation would be conducted. Both agreed, assuming that the State Security Agency be called in for this. Instead Parliament took the unusual step of outsourcing this inquiry to a company called Foresight Advisory Services. Foresight was launched in 2014 describing itself as an intelligence gathering agency with top ANC’s former spies such as Moe Shaik, Gibson Njenje and Jeff Maqetuka, apartheid-era intelligence boss Neil Barnard and former police commissioner George Fivaz on its board.

A matter that may well have been cleared up in days by timeous intervention on the part of the Presiding Officers (POs), National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete and National Council of Provinces Chairperson Thandi Modise, instead gained momentum. With the uppermost parliamentary official, the Secretary to Parliament, and its top two security heads suspended, one wonders how our national legislature continued to do its work.

Yet this Kafka-esque debacle has dragged on for years. It is public knowledge that Mgidlana has since been suspended as Secretary to Parliament and is facing disciplinary charges for alleged corruption and maladministration.

While his disciplinary process has been slowly unfolding, Parliament’s labour lawyers faced more staff troubles when Holtzman decided to challenge the 14 charges that had been brought against her. In the end she was found guilty on three counts – insubordination, failure to address divisions among her staff and failure to develop a business plan – and a final written warning was issued for a fourth charge. Parliament could have then brought an end to this saga, yet it chose instead to dismiss Holtzman. A former MK operative, Holtzman was unlikely to give up and the case dragged on until May this year when she was cleared of all charges.

Perhaps it was this that decided Mokgatla to challenge his enforced early retirement, after a career in security that saw him climb the ranks of uMkhonto weSizwe during years of exile spent mostly in Angola and Zambia.

After all, the charges that he had faced included those that Holtzman had been cleared of.

This was confirmed by Holtzman: “I challenged the charges brought against me successfully, and Mokgatla, who was charged with some, not all, of these charges, should therefore also be exonerated.” She went on to praise Mokgatla for his stand against what both had considered to be unacceptable practices by the former Secretary, saying Mokgatla “had the courage to stand up for truth and justice at great risk to himself. He took a position of principle.

“It’s a great loss to Parliament who would do well to take him back, not only to make reparation for the harm and damage this has caused him, but also to regain his expertise.”

Unfortunately for Mokgatla, though, that seems unlikely as his contract expired at the end of 2015. And with it went his chance for an opportunity to clear his name through a disciplinary hearing.

In an exclusive interview, he said that it was possible that a disciplinary hearing may have been held in his absence but that he was not informed of it and had not been told of any charges brought against him.

All he knew was that Parliament stopped paying his salary in December 2015. It was only when he called the Human Resources department that he learned that his contract had unceremoniously ended, after more than 10 years of service at Parliament.

Most senior managerial appointments at Parliament are for four or five year contracts. During Mgidlana’s term of office, the contracts of at least three long-serving senior officials had been terminated. But they had been given the option of a one-year stay of execution to find employment elsewhere.

Not so for Mokgatla. Perhaps his mistake had been to lay a complaint against Mgidlana with the Public Protector.

“The Presiding Officers are wholly responsible because they are supposed to oversee the STP. His abuse of his powers was brought to their knowledge and they did absolutely nothing. We told them on a number of occasions about how Secretary conducts himself to us and they were consciously silent,” said Mokgatla.

All attempts to get a response to this from the parliamentary spokesperson were unsuccessful.

Mokgatla believes the POs continued to support the former Secretary until pressure from the union and staff had built up to a point where they had no choice but to call in Parliament’s internal Audit Committee to investigate in July 2017.

In an urgent application in April this year for an interdict to halt his disciplinary hearing, Mgidlana let it be known that he will be challenging the authenticity of the Audit Committee’s report, and it is being questioned whether the findings of this Committee will be submitted or accepted as evidence when his disciplinary hearing is finally heard.

Whatever Mgidlana’s disciplinary hearing turns up, Mokgatla also wants a chance to clear his name and he wants to see the evidence of the alleged security breaches.

In the absence of any clear mechanisms for senior staff to call parliamentary management to account, he has turned to the Joint Standing Committee on Financial Management of Parliament, requesting it to “look into issues relating to Mr Mgidlana’s tenure of office.

“I submit that this process will assist in establishing the real facts [surrounding] my suspension. I had refused to carry out his unlawful instructions which he deemed insubordination and victimised me. Mr Mgidlana received preferential treatment [for] things that were never extended to previous Secretaries to Parliament. I believe if I hadn’t been in this position with the STP my contract would not have been terminated.”

“If anyone subverted the security operations of Parliament that is a serious thing. Why doesn’t Parliament charge me? It cannot be correct for Parliament to deny me my rights to be heard [and] treated equally like all its other employees,” Mokgatla said.

He and Holtzman had suggested to former Secretary that he apply through formal channels for the creation of a post for his own driver-cum-security officer, although this had never come up in the past or been requested by previous Secretaries to Parliament. They named a particular PPS driver that Mgidlana preferred to use for his official business travel, on one occasion removing him from Parliament to be available to Mgidlana while he attended a four-day out-of-town meeting.

Another effort to find a solution was to suggest that the former STP make use of the vehicles and drivers in the Household Services division, who were mandated to provide transport to staff under certain conditions. This had not ended well either. Mokgatla said the former STP took one look at the car supplied. “It was a Jetta or a Golf, a very small car. When they went to pick him up for the event he was attending that evening he asked where was the car, you can’t expect me to drive in that small car.” Mgidlana then told the driver to get his home address from his PA, fetch his own Rover from his house and come back to fetch him before returning the car to the government garage.

Among the allegations made by Mogkatla was the serious claim that when his use of the blue lights was exposed in the media, the former Secretary had issued instructions to have them removed. “I said no, that cannot happen because the cars might be under investigation for abuse so if you remove [the blue lights] you will be tampering with possible evidence into the abuse of these cars,” Mokgatla stated.

Efforts to confirm or deny this claim were put to Mgidlana through his attorneys, but no response was received.

The Spokesperson to Parliament Moloto Mothapo commented: “Mr Mokgatla is no longer a staff member of Parliament as his contract expired a while ago. We are neither able to offer an opinion on the views of former staff members nor comment on the ongoing disciplinary process pertaining to the Secretary to Parliament, lest its integrity is undermined. If he petitioned the standing committee on financial management of parliament, he may have done so as member of the public, and the co-chairpersons would be better positioned to respond.”

One of the Committee co-Chairpersons, Vincent Smith, acknowledged that he had received a called from Mokgatla raising this matter and said generally the Committee does not involve itself with matters of labour or disciplinary procedures. He also confirmed, however, that the Committee had received a similar letter from another employee who had been suspended by Mgidlana and whose contract had been allowed to run out before action could be taken.

Smith said, “we have suggested to all who have approached the Committee to exhaust all HR/internal labour practice avenues at the disposal of employees,” adding that a comprehensive response from the Committee is being prepared.

By Moira Levy

Photo by Branko Brkic

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  • Author: Moira Levy
Last modified on Monday, 16 July 2018 13:19

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