Fired members of the board of government’s universal service agency, Usaasa, who went to court earlier this month on an urgent basis to stop the implementation of a report by the public protector, have lost their legal challenge.
The high court in Pretoria on Wednesday dismissed the application brought by members of the former board, including its axed chairman, Mawethu Cawe, in which they had asked to have the implementation of a report by the public protector, Busisiwe Mkhwebane, stayed due to a lack of urgency.
The application was struck off the roll, with the applicants ordered to pay costs.
TechCentral first reported earlier this month that the former board members had contended that the decision to remove them was unlawful and in violation of the constitution. They were fired by telecommunications & postal services minister Siyabonga Cwele following the publication of the damning report by Mkhwebane into the suspension of the agency’s CEO, Lumko Mtimde, who has since returned to work.
In her report, Mkhwebane ordered that the suspended Mtimde be returned to full duties at Usaasa by no later than 4 September. She condemned the conduct of the former board and called on its individual members to pay personally for the costs associated with a disciplinary process against Mtimde.
Mtimde was suspended by the board in March, a move he described as “retaliation” by Cawe for reporting what he, Mtimde, called the board’s “unlawful actions”. Mtimde accused the board of acting unlawfully.
Mkhwebane found that the board’s decision to proceed with a disciplinary inquiry, despite being notified of the existence of a protected disclosure by Mtimde to national treasury, the auditor-general and the telecoms minister, violated the law and subjected him to “occupational detriment”.
But Cawe and the other dismissed board members hit back soon after the report’s publication, saying Mtimde was found guilty by the disciplinary committee of “serious misconduct of financial irregularities, dishonesty and insubordination”. They said in a statement that the minister, Cwele, had pressured the board not to suspend Mtimde and not to discipline him.
“Despite the serious allegations levelled against the CEO, the minister decided to turn a blind eye. Not once has the minister sought to know the extent of the allegations and their investigation,” the statement, issued by Cawe, said. “All he was interested in was for the CEO to return to work and continue as if nothing has happened.”
The former board members accused Cwele of firing them “with the hope to incapacitate the board from litigating and overturning the public protector’s report” so that Mtimde “should be returned to Usaasa unpunished”. They said they had resolved to go to court to challenge Mkhwebane’s report and had communicated this in writing to the minister before he dismissed them.
Mtimde said on Wednesday that he won’t comment on the court’s judgment, which he described as “self-explanatory”. He said he now wants to focus his attention on his work at Usaasa.
TechCentral has asked Cawe for comment. — © 2018 NewsCentral Media