Telecommunications & postal services minister Siyabonga Cwele has fired the board of government’s troubled universal access agency Usaasa, TechCentral has learnt.
The minister has moved quickly to replace the board after a damning report published this week by the public protector, Busisiwe Mkhwebane, into the suspension of CEO Lumko Mtimde.
TechCentral has seen a letter from Cwele thanking new interim board members for accepting the positions.
The new board will be led by interim chairman William Huma, an advocate who serves on the board of the National Lotteries Commission.
Other members of the interim board are Ntombizodwa Kutta-Ndlovu, Joel Sihle Ngubane, Mapuleng Moropa and Siyabonga Dube.
An Usaasa spokeswoman declined to comment, saying any formal announcement about changes to the board will be made by the telecoms ministry. TechCentral has asked a ministry spokesman for comment.
The developments come after Mkhwebane ordered that the suspended Mtimde be returned to full duties at Usaasa by no later than 4 September. Her report condemned the conduct of the former board, led by chairman Mawethu Cawe.
She called on the individual members of the now former Usaasa board 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, described as the board’s “unlawful actions”.
Mtimde accused the board of the long-troubled agency, which was established to improve ICT services in underserviced communities, of acting unlawfully.
‘Violated the law’
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.
“The complainant was subjected to occupational detriment by the Usaasa board on account of having made a protected disclosure,” her report said. “The Protected Disclosures Act provides for the protection of an employee from being subjected to an occupational detriment on account of having made a protected disclosure.”
By proceeding the disciplinary action, the Usaasa board “not only rendered the office of the public protector ineffective, but also the objectives of the Protected Disclosures Act, as the public protector was unable to ensure proper protection of the employee from being subjected to occupational detriment”. The board should have put the disciplinary process on hold pending the outcome of her investigation, she said.
“The conduct of the Usaasa board, especially that of the chairperson, Mr Cawe, constitutes improper conduct as envisaged in section 182(1) of the constitution and maladministration and undue delay as envisaged in section 6(5)(a) of the Public Protector Act.”
Mkhwebane directed telecoms minister Siyabonga Cwele to take “decisive and appropriate action against all members of the Usaasa board” for violation of the Protected Disclosures Act and their “defiance” of the protector’s office — “in breach” of the constitution.
She said, too, that any legal costs incurred by Usaasa after it was made aware of the protected disclosure lodged with the public protector, as well as costs incurred for the disciplinary inquiry, be recovered from the individual members of the board in their personal capacities.
She directed Cwele to consider seeking a declaration that the entire Usaasa board be declared delinquent directors for the “irregular, unnecessary, reckless and unconscionable expenditure of public funds allocated to Usaasa on legal costs”. — © 2018 NewsCentral Media