Tough choice for Cyril in R30m fish­eries row

Agri­cul­ture min­is­ter writes to pres­i­dent in row over of­fi­cial

Sunday Times - - News | Standoff - By CAIPHUS KGOSANA

● Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa could be forced to choose be­tween Agri­cul­ture, Forestry and Fish­eries Min­is­ter Sen­zeni Zok­wana and his di­rec­tor-gen­eral, Michael Mlen­gana, as the pair en­gage in a stand-off over the af­fairs of the depart­ment.

The pres­i­dent’s spokes­woman, Khusela Diko, this week told the Sun­day Times that Ramaphosa had re­ceived a let­ter from Zok­wana ask­ing him to in­ter­vene in the spat. Diko de­clined to dis­cuss de­tails of the saga, say­ing only that “the pres­i­dent is han­dling the mat­ter”.

But those with in­ti­mate knowl­edge of the spat said they ex­pected Ramaphosa would in the end be forced to choose be­tween the two. The pres­i­dent’s ultimate de­ci­sion, they said, was com­pli­cated by Zok­wana’s po­lit­i­cal pro­file as chair­man of the SACP, which makes it dif­fi­cult to act against him, es­pe­cially on the eve of an elec­tion.

The SACP cam­paigned vo­cif­er­ously for Ramaphosa’s elec­tion to the high­est of­fice in the land.

An SACP leader who is a con­fi­dant of Zok­wana said: “The di­rec­tor-gen­eral has over­played his hand. He will lose be­cause in the end it will come to a po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sion — and we know how that will go.”

The min­is­ter stripped Mlen­gana of all his pow­ers this week, ac­cus­ing him of abus­ing his pow­ers af­ter he ig­nored in­struc­tions from the min­is­ter not to suspend deputy di­rec­tor-gen­eral in charge of fish­eries, Siphokazi Ndu­dane.

Mlen­gana placed Ndu­dane on sus­pen­sion af­ter ac­cus­ing her of pay­ing R30-mil­lion to pri­vate le­gal firms when she could have used state at­tor­neys at no cost to the tax­payer. He also ques­tioned a miss­ing pay­ment of R55mil­lion that a US court or­dered con­victed cray­fish poacher Arnold Bengis to pay to the South African gov­ern­ment as resti­tu­tion.

Zok­wana had warned his di­rec­tor-gen­eral not to suspend Ndu­dane, say­ing of­fi­cials at that level did not re­port to the di­rec­tor-gen­eral but to the min­is­ter.

When this was ig­nored, Zok­wana wrote a for­mal com­mu­niqué to staff declar­ing that he had “with­drawn all del­e­ga­tion of author­ity con­ferred in the head of depart­ment [Mlen­gana]”.

He wrote: “I have ad­vised both the Pres­i­dency and the Depart­ment of Pub­lic Ser­vice and Ad­min­is­tra­tion of my de­ci­sion to with­draw del­e­ga­tion of author­ity from the head of depart­ment.”

Ndu­dane re­turned to work the day af­ter Zok­wana stripped the di­rec­tor-gen­eral of his ex­ec­u­tive author­ity.

Zok­wana’s spokesman, Khaye Nk­wanyana, con­firmed that Ndu­dane had re­turned to work as per the min­is­ter’s in­struc­tion.

He said Mlen­gana was still in the em­ploy of the depart­ment but could not per­form his func­tions with­out first seek­ing the min­is­ter’s ap­proval. “The di­rec­tor-gen­eral con­tin­ues to work, but with the with­drawal of the del­e­gated pow­ers to take de­ci­sions, he has to get ap­proval from the min­is­ter on any de­ci­sion.”

Mlen­gana could not be reached for com­ment.

But a well-placed source in gov­ern­ment, who is privy to the mat­ter, said Zok­wana’s ac­tions would be deemed il­le­gal if the di­rec­tor-gen­eral were to mount a le­gal chal­lenge against him be­ing made a lame duck.

“Where does he get the ex­ec­u­tive author­ity to with­draw the del­e­gated pow­ers of his di­rec­tor-gen­eral? These pow­ers are not del­e­gated by him but by the pres­i­dent, so where does he get this author­ity?” said the source.

It is not the first time a di­rec­tor-gen­eral has gone to bat­tle with a min­is­ter over del­e­gated pow­ers.

Home Af­fairs Di­rec­tor-Gen­eral Mkuseli Apleni was sus­pended in Septem­ber by then-min­is­ter Hlengiwe Mkhize, who ac­cused him of gross misconduct. Apleni ap­proached the High Court in Pretoria to have his sus­pen­sion set aside. The court ruled in his favour, say­ing Mkhize had no law­ful author­ity to suspend Apleni as she was re­ly­ing on a flawed del­e­ga­tion of author­ity is­sued by for­mer pres­i­dent Thabo Mbeki in 1999.

Mlen­gana him­self ap­proached the courts when Zok­wana first sus­pended him, in July last year. The court also ruled in Mlen­gana’s favour, say­ing the min­is­ter had no author­ity to suspend him as such pow­ers were vested in the pres­i­dent.

Sec­tion 12(1)(a) of the Pub­lic Ser­vice Act vests pow­ers to suspend or ini­ti­ate dis­ci­plinary pro­ceed­ings against a di­rec­tor-gen­eral solely in the pres­i­dent. Mlen­gana re­turned to work in April.

Agri­cul­ture, Forestry and Fish­eries Min­is­ter Sen­zeni Zok­wana

Michael Mlen­gana

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