Parliament has recently filled four senior management positions after head-hunting candidates with close ties to the ANC, while about 300 junior to mid-level positions remain frozen. This emerged just weeks after Parliament claimed it had reduced its overall vacancy rate to just over 4%. However, the appointments have raised the ire of opposition parties, who are accusing the ANC of overplaying its hand by deploying its cadres, rather than searching for the best talent to serve Parliament.
It has emerged that three of the four division managers who took up positions in recent weeks had previous experience of having either worked for or represented the ANC in various spheres of government. The DA is now threatening to challenge some of the appointments.
Among those head-hunted is former ANC MP Dumisani Job Sithole, who returned to the national legislature after being fired from his previous job. Sithole served as an ANC MP for 10 years before he worked for the City of Johannesburg as the director of the Alexandra Renewal Project, from which he was dismissed for persistent insubordination.
Parliament has seen fit, however, to appoint him as division manager for international relations and protocol. He assumed his new duties on January 9. Parliament said Sithole was bringing “extensive relevant experience and expertise” as he previously served as an MP, mostly as chairperson of the foreign affairs committee that hosted many international delegations.
Parliament’s new spokesperson, Moloto Mothapo, this week defended Sithole’s deployment, saying the issue was ventilated during the interview and “a conclusion arrived at was that [his job history] won’t have any effect on his new role”.
In a written response to questions about senior appointments by DA chief whip John Steenhuisen, secretary to Parliament Gengezi Mgidlana said the parliamentary service had had a high vacancy rate at senior management level for a long time, which was a serious concern as it threatened Parliament’s administrative capacity.
He said Parliament embarked on a recruitment drive in 2015/16 in a bid to fill all the vacancies, but despite advertising for the positions and receiving a significant number of applications, Parliament could not find suitable candidates and had to take the head-hunting route.
For Sithole’s position, 97 applications were received, but none of the candidates was “sufficiently suitable”. During the head-hunting process, Sithole was recommended by the selection panel from four short-listed candidates who had been interviewed. “He emerged as the most suitable candidate based on his demonstrated skills and competencies,” Mgidlana said.
Mothapo is himself a senior official who was head-hunted. His official title is division manager for parliamentary communication services. He was an ANC caucus spokesperson for 12 years.
While he is highly regarded by many senior journalists for the work he did as a political spin doctor, the DA and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) criticised his appointment last month to what they deem should be a nonpartisan position in Parliament.
Another newly employed manager is Vusumuzi Mavuso, who had dramatically resigned from the SABC board during a heated portfolio committee meeting in Parliament on October 5. But less than two months later, on December 1, he assumed duties as a divisional manager for member support services in Parliament. He was also head-hunted.
Mavuso previously served as a member of the provincial legislature in Gauteng for the ANC and has also served in the Public Service Commission. He acted as municipal manager of Buffalo City.
A fourth recently employed is Ravi Moodley, who assumed duties as divisional manager for strategy and governance on December 1 2016.
Mgidlana argued that all candidates were selected based on the requirements of the positions, which included a combination of qualifications, relevant experience, management skills and competency levels.
Announcing the appointments of the senior managers in a media statement last month, Parliament said it had also reduced its overall vacancy rate from 18% in the 2014/15 financial year to 4.3% in 2017, with women constituting 54.1% (717) of its staff complement of 1 326.
Mgidlana also told a meeting of the joint standing committee on the financial management of Parliament that more than 300 positions had been frozen. Mothapo said the frozen vacancies were owing to non-availability of funds, but that Parliament was in the process of filling positions that were critical to its core business.
Steenhuisen said the DA was “deeply concerned” about the nature of the recruitment and appointment of senior staff. “It is clear to us that the secretary to Parliament is intent on packing the senior management of an institution that should jealously guard its non-partisanship with ANC cadres, some of whom are clearly unsuitable for the job.”
Steenhuisen said the appointments were an abuse of the head-hunting policy to ensure particular employment outcomes in accordance with Mgidlana’s wishes. As a result, the DA was exploring options to challenge some of these appointments, particularly those of Sithole and Mothapo.
The National Health, Education and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu), which represents the majority of Parliament workers, accused the institution of creating “superelites” while downsizing core positions without consulting the union.
Disang Mocumi, deputy chairperson of Nehawu’s Parliament branch, said this had “severely compromised critical support to the core business of Parliament and demoralised staff”.
“Parliament can’t be obsessed with vetting junior employees, while it head-hunts questionable individuals who were dismissed in their previous employment.
“If these allegations are true, then we wonder why these senior officials were not vetted,” he said in reference to Sithole’s appointment.