Cabinet endorsed the irregular appointment of the CEO of the beleaguered Amatola Water Board in the Eastern Cape.
However, in a recording obtained by City Press, Water and Sanitation Minister Senzo Mchunu could be heard backtracking on the appointment this month.
He told a delegation of the SA Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) during a virtual meeting on Tuesday that the appointment of the board’s CEO, Petrus Maselaganye Matji, would be reversed.
“We’re saying that the process will be started afresh,” said Mchunu in part.
In the recording, he could also be heard saying that the entity was in dire financial straits and its board deeply divided.
Mchunu said in part: We found that the entity is collapsing.
In addition, he took a swipe at the union, saying it was not blameless for what was happening at the entity. He added that the board was not blameless either, and that its management was extremely weak, compared with others in the country.
It is unclear whether Mchunu knowingly misled Cabinet to endorse Matji’s appointment.
A Cabinet memo that endorsed the appointment was issued by spokesperson Phumla Williams on February 11.
Williams would not respond to specific questions sent to her on Thursday, and referred them to Mchunu’s office.
Sputnik Ratau, spokesperson for the department of water and sanitation, had also not responded to questions by the time of going to print.
City Press, however, has seen Mchunu’s letter, dated October 5 and addressed to the entity’s board member, Thabiso Wana – who also chaired the board’s human resources and remuneration committee – which suggested that he was aware that the process was allegedly flawed.
Wana had raised concerns about the recruitment process and Mchunu’s letter was a response to her urgent request to put the CEO’s appointment on hold, placing the responsibility for dealing with the matter on acting chairperson Zamikhaya Xalisa.
The board then sought a legal opinion, which it allegedly later ignored in December.
Bantu Mazingi of law firm Bate Chubb & Dickson found that the panel set up to recruit Matji had been improperly constituted and recommended that the process be “restarted in order to safeguard the integrity of the process”.
City Press has also seen a letter dated February 14 from the current chairperson, Mosidi Makgae, to the Samwu branch leader at the entity, Victor Totolo, stating: “Cabinet has since endorsed the appointment of the CEO candidate, Mr Matji, in the Cabinet memo dated February 11 2022.”
Makgae added that all that was left to finalise the appointment was the administrative process.
“This is much-needed positive news and, hopefully, the organisation will soon be stabilised,” wrote Makgae.
MCHUNU ‘WAS EVASIVE’
City Press understands that Mchunu had been in the Eastern Cape in the previous weeks trying to put out fires following the ructions caused by the Samwu branch at the entity.
Totolo confirmed this and further alleged that Mchunu had tried to evade questions surrounding Matji’s appointment when they met in Gqeberha on March 10.
He said Mchunu had called him after their meeting and tried to persuade him to ask workers to halt their strike action.
Totolo added that it was Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane who had ultimately intervened, which he believed had led to Mchunu conducting a virtual meeting with their delegation again on March 15.
Mabuyane’s spokesperson, Khuselwa Rantjie, confirmed that Mabuyane had “engaged with and supported” Mchunu to resolve the impasse between unions and the entity’s board.
Rantjie said: The premier’s interest was to ensure that the provision of water was restored in the areas that were affected by water cuts as a result of the strike action.
Totolo said it had been a challenge for them to secure the March 15 meeting because Mchunu’s office wanted to cover other issues, rather than specifically focus on the Matji matter.
He said a letter had been received from Mchunu’s office on March 12 inviting them to the virtual meeting on March 15. They had declined the invitation, since it did not mention Matji’s appointment.
A second letter inviting them to a meeting, he said, had arrived from Mchunu’s office the following day (March 13).
Totolo said Samwu had halted its strike action after this second letter and the virtual meeting.
Mchunu had committed to putting resolutions made at that meeting in writing. These included the reversal of Matji’s appointment and the distribution of letters to board members asking why their appointments should not be withdrawn.
However, by Friday, Totolo said they had still not received Mchunu’s correspondence.
“As a progressive and responsible trade union, we’re determined to calm the [situation] at the Amatola Water Board, notwithstanding the fact that we aren’t the engineers of this calamity. However, it’s very vexing when policies aren’t adhered to, and what’s shocking is to have agreements and resolutions that aren’t honoured by the authorities.
“All these issues that relate to reneging on agreements contribute a lot to the mistrust and suspicion that always exist between employers and employees. If they aren’t managed well, they can lead to full-blown industrial [chaos] that has the potential to bring the entire country to its knees,” said Totolo.
According to Mazingi, whose opinion was tabled before the board in December, they were mandated to determine whether the recruitment process was undertaken in line with the entity’s recruitment policy approved in September 2020, and whether the panel responsible for the process was appointed with the provision of the policy.
He said the entity had had a virtual special board meeting on May 25 last year to discuss the appointment of Xalisa as interim chairperson, as well as the restructuring of board committees.
At that meeting, Mazingi said Xalisa had informed the members that he had received a letter from Mchunu the previous day appointing him acting chairperson, and that he had been instructed to prioritise the objection of the union to the recruitment process of executives and accelerate stabilising the entity through the CEO’s appointment, among other things.
However, the members had expressed their concern regarding the existence of two chairpersons at that meeting.
Mazingi said Wana had addressed a letter to Mchunu on October 17, requesting that the CEO recruitment process be put on hold because, as chairperson of the human resources and remuneration committee, she did not believe that due processes had been followed.
Mazingi found that the panel for shortlisting candidates had indeed not been properly constituted in line with the recruitment policy.