Long-serving department of telecommunications & postal services deputy director-general Themba Phiri has been fired by his boss, Rosey Sekese, after a disciplinary hearing, which, he says, was conducted in his absence. Phiri says the decision is “unfair and unjust” and intends meeting with his lawyers.
The latest ructions at the troubled telecoms department — which is responsible for ICT policy — come just six weeks after Phiri quit as DDG after falling out with director-general Sekese, whom he has now accused of “abuse of power” and attempting to “settle political scores” over her suspension by former communications minister Dina Pule in 2013.
Sekese fired another deputy, Gift Buthelezi, by SMS, in March. Buthelezi is now challenging his dismissal through an arbitration process.
Phiri has accused Sekese of “failing to work with DDGs and provide leadership”. He confirms he resigned from the department on 19 May following what he describes as “victimisation, abuse of power and functional isolation” by Sekese “to settle political scores and [seek]vengeance after her suspension in 2013”.
Sekese was suspended for lying to parliament about signing a performance agreement. Her suspension was later lifted by Pule’s successor, Yunus Carrim, apparently in an attempt to ensure stability in the leadership of the department.
She has since been accused by her critics in the department of running a vendetta against those she believes were behind her suspension. Phiri says Sekese is attempting to settle political scores and that he is one of her victims.
However, after he resigned in May, Phiri says telecoms minister Siyabonga Cwele asked him to come back, formally rejecting his resignation.
“Apparently,” he says, “a disciplinary hearing continued in my absence. On 1 July … Sekese has terminated my services with the [department]based on a hearing outcome that took place in my absence. I received her letter of termination today [Thursday]. I have therefore vacated the premises as they immediately changed [the]locks.”
He says Cwele is abroad and so “there is very little I can do”. Cwele’s spokesman, Siya Qoza, confirmed that he is travelling.
“I am extremely aggrieved by this situation,” Phiri tells TechCentral. “This is unfair labour practice and victimisation at [its]worst because I still have not heard from the minister on his commitment to investigate the issues raised in the resignation letter.”
Phiri served as head of policy in the department. In this role, he looked after broadband, markets and competition, postal policy, and the department’s cost-to-communicate programme.
His axing comes after he, along with Buthelezi and fellow DDG Sam Vilakazi, wrote a letter to Cwele regarding their unhappiness with Sekese’s leadership.
Buthelezi and others in the senior management service at the department have had various charges levied against them by the DG.
TechCentral established in March that both Vilakazi and Phiri were facing disciplinary procedures instituted by Sekese. It is alleged that she is using internal disciplinary processes to get rid of staff prior to the completion of probes into the department by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU).
The SIU is tasked with investigating a deal in which Media Corner, a media agency, was paid an eye-watering R756m to advertise South Africa’s digital migration programme.
Democratic Alliance MP Marian Shinn said in March that disciplinary charges against 15 staff members had been initiated without this SIU report being completed and without staff members having access to the report.
A second SIU investigation is into alleged serious maladministration in connection with the affairs of the former department of communications – it was renamed as telecoms & postal services in 2014 – and improper or unlawful conduct by its officials, including unlawful appropriation or expenditure of public money.
Shinn says the latest developments at the department are “completely unacceptable” and come at a critical time for the ICT sector. She accuses Cwele of failing to get to grips with the problems and “turning a blind eye” to them.
According to Shinn, the SIU’s leadership has told her that Sekese is not implicated in any of its investigations. Shinn says this is “surprising” given that Sekese is believed to have been intimately involved in the Media Corner deal.
She says the director-general appears to be a stumbling block in the department’s turnaround and questions why she appears to be “untouchable”.
Ministry spokesman Siya Qoza is seeking comment from Sekese, but this had not been furnished at the time of publication as she is in meetings and unavailable. — (c) 2015 NewsCentral Media