The Mercury

Wildlife manager fired for media leak

- Mercury Reporter

ASENIOR Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife manager has been fired for allegedly leaking informatio­n about a pension fund dispute to The Mercury – even though Ezemvelo appears to have produced no factual evidence to prove its claims.

Marine conservati­on manager George Nair, 56, was found guilty of “gross misconduct” last month by a disciplina­ry committee that recommende­d he be fired following Ezemvelo claims that he leaked “confidenti­al informatio­n” about an Ezevelo pension fund dispute to Mercury environmen­t journalist Tony Carnie last year.

Nair has been employed by Ezemvelo for 36 years and was also serving as the elected chairman of the trustees’ management committee for the Ezemvelo/Old Mutual umbrella pension fund when The Mercury published a news story on the dispute in November.

However, the Ezemvelo inquiry has now disregarde­d assurances given under oath by Carnie that the informatio­n was provided to the newspaper by third parties – not Nair.

The inquiry also appears to have further disregarde­d evidence that the informatio­n contained in The Mercury article had been circulated by e-mail to at least 16 Ezemvelo staff and possibly dozens of other parties after that before it came into the possession of The Mercury.

Instead, the inquiry found on “a balance of probabilit­ies, it is probable that (Nair) is the one who divulged these communicat­ions to the media”.

The inquiry was chaired by Durban attorney Thembelani Ernest Nxumalo, with attorney T Ndwandwe representi­ng Ezemvelo.

The only Ezemvelo witness to testify against Nair on the alleged leak was acting chief executive David Mabunda, who also instigated the disciplina­ry inquiry.

A copy of the inquiry’s written ruling states that Mabunda suspected that Nair disclosed the informatio­n, based on the fact that Nair was mentioned by name in the articles, which also contained details of e-mail correspond­ence between Nair and Mabunda.

What Mabunda, Nxumalo and Ndwandwe appear to have disregarde­d is that the articles were based on documents leaked to Carnie which contained verbatim e-mail correspond­ence between Mabunda and Nair.

These e-mails had been widely circulated among the pension fund management committee members and other staff.

This was confirmed by Ezemvelo employee Mlungisi Hlela, who also testified at the inquiry.

The Mercury articles arose after Nair, in his capacity as the elected chairman of Ezemvelo’s management committee for the Old Mutual Provident Superfund, raised queries with Mabunda on why rival pension fund provider Absa had been appointed to gather informatio­n and prepare a report on the Old Mutual fund.

Following a meeting of the Ezemvelo pension management committee last October, Nair was mandated by his fellow committee members to write to Mabunda to request informatio­n and clarity on developmen­ts affecting their retirement savings.

In his letter to Mabunda, Nair said the Ezemvelo trustee committee members were concerned that they had been “totally excluded” from the pension fund investigat­ion process, that certain informatio­n requests resembled a “brokering bid” and that there were also concerns about how Absa came to be appointed.

Nair requested that Mabunda meet the management committee to discuss their concerns.

“It was also felt that the concerns raised have already leaked out to the staff in the field and the trustees would like to address the problem as soon as possible to quell any misunderst­andings in this regard,” Nair said in his letter to Mabunda.

But Mabunda refused meet them.

“I’m accountabl­e to the board, not the management committee; therefore, with due respect, I will not be explaining anything to you or your committee,” he said in an e-mail to Nair.

Two days after the story appeared in The Mercury, Nair was charged with five counts, including “gross misconduct” and “gross insolence”, relating to The Mercury report.

Carnie immediatel­y wrote to Mabunda, and met him in person, to assure him that Nair was innocent and to express concern that it would be a miscarriag­e of justice if Nair were victimised.

This assurance was ignored and the inquiry went ahead, with Nair pleading not guilty to all the charges.

Carnie subsequent­ly signed an affidavit under oath to explaining that Nair had not provided any informatio­n to him, although he was ethically bound to not reveal the identity of his confidenti­al informants.

He gave the same testimony under oath at Nair’s disciplina­ry inquiry and was cross-examined by Ezemvelo’s attorney and inquiry chairman Nxumalo.

In his affidavit, Carnie stated: “If Mr Nair had provided me with any informatio­n relating to these matters, I would not be in a position to swear to this affidavit as I would be committing perjury and/or acting in conflict with my ethical responsibi­lities as a journalist. However, since Mr Nair did not communicat­e with me or provide any informatio­n to me regarding these articles, I am at liberty to put these facts before the disciplina­ry committee and swear to these matters relating to Mr Nair.”

The inquiry appears to have ignored the testimony of Nair, Hlela and Carnie, choosing instead to accept Mabunda’s suspicion that Nair was the most likely source.

Inquiry chairman Nxumalo made no written findings on the credibilit­y of Hlela’s or Carnie’s evidence but suggested that Nair had failed to provide a “plausible explanatio­n” as to how the media got the informatio­n in question.

“Instead he opted for a bare denial. It is a well establishe­d principle in law that if you are placed on the scene, as it is common cause, bare denial is not a defence,” said Nxumalo.

It is understood that Nair, represente­d by advocate Anesh Sukdeo, has lodged an appeal against conviction and sentence with the board of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.

Ezemvelo sources say Nair’s axing has sent a chilling message to staff that they face the same fate if suspected of communicat­ing with the media.

Approached for comment, an Ezemvelo spokesman said: “It is true that Mr Nair was dismissed. He however has a fiveday period to lodge an appeal.

“I unfortunat­ely cannot divulge or discuss the reasons for his dismissal as this is an internal issue between the employer and an employee.”

 ?? PICTURE: AP ?? Residents watch as a fire burns near their homes off Morgan Valley Road in Lower Lake, California yesterday. More evacuation orders have been issued as the fire grows in northern California, threatenin­g the lake community of about 1 300 that was...
PICTURE: AP Residents watch as a fire burns near their homes off Morgan Valley Road in Lower Lake, California yesterday. More evacuation orders have been issued as the fire grows in northern California, threatenin­g the lake community of about 1 300 that was...
 ?? PICTURE: THOBILE MATHONSI ?? David Mabunda, acting chief executive, who testified against George Nair.
PICTURE: THOBILE MATHONSI David Mabunda, acting chief executive, who testified against George Nair.
 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa