Ceta whistle-blowers ‘hunted’ by CEO
Suspected whistle-blowers who exposed fraudulent activities implicating Construction Education and Training Authority (Ceta) CEO Sonja Pilusa were made to sign confidentiality agreements to keep silent before being fired.
The whistle-blowers have accused Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande, as custodian of the state entity, of having failed to protect them in favour of a “draconian management”.
They said that the fact that Pilusa was never placed on precautionary suspension pending an outcome of a forensic investigation into allegations against her worsened their plight.
Pilusa allegedly embarked on a witch-hunt after an anonymous letter emerged last April. It painted Ceta – which trains and provides bursaries for pupils interested in entering the construction industry – as a state entity that is worse off than it was when it was placed under administration in 2012.
United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa has written a letter asking Public Protector Thuli Madonsela to investigate the matter after he received complaints from a group of expelled and suspended workers.
In his letter dated February 9, which City Press has seen, Holomisa raises concerns about the “involvement of the SA Communist Party [SACP], which was outside of government”.
Holomisa said Nzimande had failed to safeguard public resources, particularly because of the “dominance” of the SACP in the department and the Ceta.
Pilusa is also accused of irregularly using her power to seek intervention from the SACP to deal with staff who were opposed to certain decisions.
She allegedly hauled now suspended Ceta provincial coordinator Nomhlanhla Ndovela to a meeting with the SACP, where she was addressed as a “deployee”.
Pilusa is said to have been accompanied by Ceta chair Nhlanhla Raymond Cele and former Ceta administrator Themba Mhambi to the meeting in Durban with KwaZulu-Natal secretary Themba Mthembu. Cele is a member of the SACP in KwaZulu-Natal, while Mhambi is a member in Gauteng.
Pilusa is said to have “instructed them” to warn Ndovela about “associating with the persons that both Pilusa and Mhambi regarded as their enemies”. This was in reference to Ceta financial manager Kelebogilwe Mohotji and another Gauteng provincial manager, who were later dismissed after being charged for leaking information. This allegation is contained in a letter handed to Madonsela to help her with her investigation. It was written by Ndovela to Cele and higher education department director-general Gwebs Qonde.
The SACP’s Mthembu has denied he was ever forced to call any official at Ceta to order. He said he would write to Holomisa because he was being dishonest by using him and the alleged meeting to perpetuate a narrative about the SACP’s influence at the Ceta.
Nzimande’s spokesperson, Khaye Nkwanyana, said these were serious allegations that should be referred to investigators and the Seta Accounting Authority.
He also defended the decision not to suspend Pilusa, saying the minister could not suspend someone on a whim because courts took a dim view of that.
Nkwanyana said if allegations of purging were true, it was tantamount to unfair labour practice.
City Press was told that problems at Ceta have also been escalated to Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa for intervention. Treasury has been asked to investigate Ceta’s noncompliance to the Public Finance Management Act, and a case of fraud against Pilusa has been opened with the commercial crimes unit.
The Ceta has denied allegations of a witchhunt on whistle-blowers.
“The Ceta treats all its employees in accordance with the applicable employment laws,” it said.
Its spokesperson, Jabulani Jiyane, said: “The CEO did not decide that all Ceta staff should sign the confidentiality agreements and forms. This is a standard practice that Ceta has adopted and has been the practise in the organisation from as far back as 2007, before Ms Pilusa was CEO.” Pilusa denied there was ever a meeting with the SACP. She insisted that the Ceta had no affiliation with the SACP.
When asked why Pilusa had not been suspended pending the internal inquiry as per procedure, Jiyane said that could only be done if a prima facie case of misconduct was made against Pilusa.
“The Ceta requires evidence to support such an allegation. Despite many opportunities and platforms created for those who allege to be in possession of such evidence to bring it forward, no such evidence has been provided to the Ceta.”