The battle between Public Works Minister Patricia de Lille and her suspended director-general, Sam Vukela, is far from over.
In a new twist, De Lille has told Vukela that he should not set foot in the department’s offices tomorrow. The move came after the General Public Service Sector Bargaining Council found that Vukela was unfairly suspended. It ordered that he should resume his duties tomorrow.
But, in a letter to his attorney, Faheem Kaka, dated March 8 and which City Press has seen, the minister warned Vukela that the department was appealing the ruling by the bargaining council’s arbitrator Katlholo Wabile.
In his ruling on March 31, Wabile said De Lille and the minister in the presidency “committed an unfair labour practice against Vukela, by extending and continuing to keep him on suspension beyond the 60-day period”.Sam Vukela.Times Live
“The applicant [Vukela] has been on suspension since July 29 2020. This is a period of about a year and eight months.
“Discounting the prescribed period of suspension, notwithstanding the applicant’s willingness to ‘stomach’ it, the suspension has, at the time of writing this award, endured for around 550 days. I find that it has been a very long suspension,” said Wabile in his ruling.
He then ordered that Vukela’s suspension be lifted with immediate effect.
But in a letter seen by City Press, from De Lille’s lawyers Cheadle Thompson & Haysom Inc, which was served to Vukela’s lawyers on Friday, the minister said she would approach the labour court on an urgent basis to appeal the ruling, and ordered Vukela to stay at home.
The letter from De Lille’s lawyers reads: We propose approaching the labour court for a set down of part A of the application on May 5 2022 in order to afford the parties sufficient opportunity to exchange affidavits.
“We kindly request that your client agree that he will not report for work pending the outcome of part A of the application. Your client will continue to receive his full salary and benefits during this time.”
The minister warned that should Vukela decide to go to work, she would approach the court “forthwith” for an order suspending the bargaining council’s ruling and would also seek costs against him.
WHERE IT ALL STARTED
Vukela was suspended on July 29 2020 after it was alleged that he had been involved in massive spending during the funerals of struggle stalwarts Winnie Madikela-Mandela, former Cabinet minister Zola Skweyiya and former chief of state protocol Billy Modise, which cost government a staggering R76 million.
Vukela’s suspension has raised concerns, with opposition parties questioning how the director-general was getting paid millions of rands annually while he remained at home. Vukela earns R1.8 million a year.
In the court documents, Vukela, who has denied all the allegations against him, said he had made protected disclosure of the minister’s alleged unlawful instructions.
In the submission, he attached a directive from De Lille in which she allegedly instructed him to “kindly facilitate the appointment of consultancy company, Oryx Multimedia. I’ve attached the company profile for your perusal and request that the start date be August 1 2019.”
De Lille allegedly wanted the company to “conduct a strategic review of the department’s multimedia positioning across all the platforms – from the web and social media, to in-house publications and communications – and compile a report with recommendations, daily monitoring of current affairs environment relevant to the minister”, among other things.
The startling allegations were contained in an affidavit filed by Vukela in the Pretoria High Court. The affidavit formed part of his efforts to hold on to his job after De Lille initiated disciplinary proceedings against him for his alleged role in the awarding of the multimillion-rand Beitbridge border fence project.
He also asked the court to bar the minister from initiating the disciplinary processes based on the allegations that senior officials were involved in the highly inflated R40 million project.
In the affidavit, in which President Cyril Ramaphosa was cited as a second respondent, Vukela wrote that De Lille was the one who had violated several procurement processes and had participated in the controversial fence tender. He said she also demanded that certain service providers be appointed without following proper procurement processes.