The min­is­ter re­quested the trans­fer to her de­part­ment of Icasa CEO who was fac­ing sus­pen­sion over al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual ha­rass­ment

CityPress - - Front Page - HLENGIWE NHLABATHI hlengiwe.nhlabathi@city­press.co.za

Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Min­is­ter Ayanda Dlodlo al­legedly tried to save a “com­rade” from fac­ing se­ri­ous charges, in­clud­ing sex­ual ha­rass­ment. In a bizarre request, on July 3, Dlodlo wrote to the coun­cil of broad­cast­ing reg­u­la­tor the Independent Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Author­ity of SA (Icasa), re­quest­ing that its chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer (CEO) Pakamile Pong­wana be sec­onded to head her de­part­ment, which had been with­out a di­rec­tor-gen­eral for some time. The request, viewed as sus­pi­cious by sources, came on the day that the board was to de­lib­er­ate on its de­ci­sion to sus­pend Pong­wana. He had been in­formed five days ear­lier that he faced sus­pen­sion.

Two le­gal opin­ions drafted in June found enough grounds for the board to charge him and sub­ject him to a dis­ci­plinary hear­ing. The re­ports, in part, found that: . Pong­wana should be sub­jected to a hear­ing and charged with sex­ual ha­rass­ment for hav­ing al­legedly abused his author­ity as CEO “by squeez­ing his sub­or­di­nate’s but­tocks and hav­ing passed com­ments and/or in­nu­en­dos of a sex­ual na­ture to a fel­low em­ployee”; and

. He dis­played gross in­so­lence and in­sub­or­di­na­tion, which are dis­mis­si­ble of­fences as they con­sti­tute mis­con­duct. This re­lated to the “dis­re­spect­ful, con­de­scend­ing and ag­gres­sive” man­ner he treated Icasa coun­cil mem­bers.

Pong­wana said he was not aware of the al­le­ga­tions against him nor was he aware of Dlodlo’s request for his trans­fer. How­ever, City Press un­der­stands that he has since pro­posed a sep­a­ra­tion set­tle­ment with Icasa, de­mand­ing that he be paid for the re­main­der of his con­tract, which runs un­til Septem­ber next year.

Dlodlo’s of­fice claimed that the min­is­ter had not known about the board’s in­ten­tion to sus­pend Pong­wana and its de­ci­sion to sub­ject him to a hear­ing when she sent the let­ter on July 3.

The al­leged sex­ual ha­rass­ment hap­pened on March 28 dur­ing the reg­u­la­tor’s an­nual gen­eral meet­ing in Dur­ban where em­ployee dis­putes over salaries were be­ing dis­cussed at a ho­tel foyer. The fe­male col­league ex­plained that she needed the money as she was a sin­gle par­ent, to which Pong­wana al­legedly re­sponded that “women do not need any­thing, ufak’ in­duku [you have sex with her]”. He then al­legedly “squeezed her but­tocks and at­tempted to kiss her in full view of her col­leagues”.

The June 26 le­gal re­port con­cluded that his con­duct “con­sti­tutes sex­ual ha­rass­ment and he acted in a man­ner that has the ef­fect of bring­ing the good name and rep­u­ta­tion of the com­pany into dis­re­pute”.

Another re­port, days ear­lier, had found that Pong­wana was in­sub­or­di­nate in his “flat re­fusal to fur­nish details of his in­ter­na­tional trav­els for the 2014/15 and 2105/16 fi­nan­cial years as re­quested by then min­is­ter Faith Muthambi in a let­ter dated March 21 which specif­i­cally stated sub­mis­sion by the end of the same month”.

City Press was told that a whis­tle-blower had spilled the beans on the al­leged sex­ual es­capades of Pong­wana and a co-worker that took place dur­ing trips that were mostly paid for by Icasa be­tween 2014 and 2016. The trips in­cluded a cruise off the coast of East Africa in Zanz­ibar. There were also al­le­ga­tions that Pong­wana sus­pended a union rep­re­sen­ta­tive three days af­ter she blew the whis­tle on the al­leged sex­ual ha­rass­ment to Icasa’s coun­cil. Doc­u­ments in City Press’ pos­ses­sion show that Icasa in­tended to dis­ci­pline the rep­re­sen­ta­tive for “mak­ing false state­ments about the CEO”. She was also charged for her role in last year’s strike at the reg­u­la­tor.

Pong­wana said: “I’m pre­pared to sub­ject my­self to the dis­ci­plinary process. I pre­fer that I do not deal with the me­dia in this re­gard as this af­fects my pro­fes­sional life, and fam­ily.”

Dlodlo’s of­fice said: “The min­is­ter was not in­formed about the board’s in­ten­tion to sus­pend Pong­wana de­spite the fact that she is the ex­ec­u­tive author­ity for Icasa.”

The min­is­ter’s of­fice told City Press on Fri­day that there had been no fur­ther cor­re­spon­dence with Icasa since it re­sponded to her let­ter on July 5, in­form­ing her of the pos­si­ble sus­pen­sion. It added that she had not pur­sued the is­sue of Pong­wana’s trans­fer to her de­part­ment fur­ther as she “un­der­stands that dis­ci­plinary pro­cesses must take their course with­out hin­drance or in­ter­fer­ence”.

In her mo­ti­va­tion to Icasa’s coun­cil, which was also sent to Deputy Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa, Dlodlo wrote that the sec­ond­ment was “in view of the ur­gency of de­liv­er­ables in the broad­cast­ing dig­i­tal mi­gra­tion project and other key pol­icy ini­tia­tives”.

The de­part­ment has been with­out a di­rec­tor-gen­eral since 2014 and Dlodlo said that this had a neg­a­tive im­pact on the de­part­ment’s abil­ity to carry out its man­date.

“Mr Pong­wana will serve as act­ing di­rec­tor-gen­eral of the de­part­ment of com­mu­ni­ca­tions with im­me­di­ate ef­fect for a pe­riod of three months or un­til a per­ma­nent di­rec­tor-gen­eral has been ap­pointed,” reads her let­ter.

The two are said to have a close relationship dat­ing back to their days in ex­ile. But Dlodlo’s of­fice said this did not in­flu­ence the min­is­ter’s de­ci­sion. “The min­is­ter has re­la­tion­ships with many peo­ple in the pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tor who she met in ex­ile, es­pe­cially for­mer Umkhonto weSizwe vet­er­ans. How­ever, the min­is­ter main­tains pro­fes­sional re­la­tions with th­ese in­di­vid­u­als in her ca­pac­ity as the min­is­ter. As such, the min­is­ter con­sid­ers pro­fes­sional com­pe­tence at all times when she makes de­ci­sions that im­pact on the work of the min­istry,” said act­ing spokesper­son Philiswa Se­bati.

Sources told City Press that the rea­son the let­ter was also sent to Ramaphosa, who is head of the ANC’s de­ploy­ment com­mit­tee and head of gov­ern­ment busi­ness, was to bull­doze the board into sec­ond­ing Pong­wana’s trans­fer. But Dlodlo’s of­fice de­nied that there was any ma­li­cious in­tent and said the let­ter was sent to Ramaphosa in his ca­pac­ity as leader of gov­ern­ment busi­ness.

In the pro­posed set­tle­ment ne­go­ti­a­tion, Pong­wana’s lawyers told Icasa’s coun­cil that he should be paid all the money due to him, as he be­lieved this was “an am­i­ca­ble res­o­lu­tion to the dis­putes”. “Ac­cord­ingly, our client pro­poses that in or­der to main­tain sta­bil­ity, he re­signs from his po­si­tion and he be paid the re­main­der of his con­trac­tual pe­riod to­gether with all statu­tory ben­e­fits due to him,” a lawyer’s pro­posal, dated July 21, reads. The let­ter has prompted the post­pone­ment of a planned dis­ci­plinary hear­ing on Fri­day, while Icasa’s coun­cil de­cides on the next step. Icasa chair­per­son Rubben Mohlaloga re­fused to talk about the case against Pong­wana, say­ing the reg­u­la­tor “treats all its in­ter­nal dis­ci­plinary pro­cesses con­fi­den­tially”. “The or­gan­i­sa­tion is func­tion­ing in ac­cor­dance with its man­date with an ex­ec­u­tive that is com­pe­tent,” he said when asked how this af­fected the reg­u­la­tor. Chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer Willing­ton Ng­wepe is the act­ing CEO un­til dis­ci­plinary pro­cesses against Pong­wana are fi­nalised.


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