The Public Servants Association, the sole union represented at the State IT Agency, has expressed concern about the appointment of Simphiwe Dzengwa as the government IT procurement agency’s acting MD.
According to PSA spokesman Zamani Dladla, the PSA’s concerns centre on Dzengwa’s alleged political connections.
Also of concern to the union is a potential conflict of interest arising from Dzengwa’s position as chair of a task team appointed by communications minister Mondli Gungubele to look into Sita’s longstanding procurement issues.
“It has never happened before that somebody from outside [an organisation] is brought in to act as an MD without looking internally to see if there is anybody capable of taking on the position,” Dladla said in an interview with TechCentral.
“Also, when we look at [Dzengwa’s] profile, we see that he has close proximity to politicians, which is what worries us most.”
Prior to joining Sita, Dzengwa was special advisor to the minister of small business development, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, who was minister of communications – which has oversight of Sita – from 2018 to 2021.
“It makes us suspicious; what is really happening here?” said Dladla.
On 6 December 2023, when the ministerial task team was established, Dzengwa was appointed as its chair. His appointment as acting MD comes two months after that appointment and has raised concerns of a potential conflict of interest.
TechCentral asked the department of communications & digital technologies for comment, but it had not responded by the time of publication.
But Sita spokesman Tlali Tlali said other candidates for the role of interim MD were considered before the decision to appoint Dzengwa was made. He said Dzengwa is no longer a member of the ministerial task team, meaning there is no conflict of interest.
However, Dladla said Sita employees affiliated to the PSA have said the working environment at the government agency has become “hostile” since the task team’s arrival.
Employees are being “purged”, with some wanting to resign, because the task team “is on their backs”, he alleged.
A “terms of reference” document setting out the purpose and scope of the task team, which TechCentral has seen, gives the unit the authority to make changes to staff. Its powers and responsibilities include:
- Assessing the underlying causes of the extent of the supply-chain management backlog at Sita.
- Recommending credible, effective measures that can provide a resolution of the backlog as speedily as possible.
- Recommending rules to ensure compliance with procurement laws.
- Reviewing the systems, processes and people in procurement at Sita, including the appointment of consultants to support the process.
Regardless of whether or not the task team is acting within the scope of its powers, the PSA said the legality by which those powers were given is questionable. “It is not clear in the terms of reference or the media statement issued by the minister what prescript he used to appoint these people,” said Dladla.
But Sita spokesman Tlali cited the minister’s position as “shareholder representative” to the agency as the source of his legal authority.
“The minister … has the authority to appoint such a structure and will have considered all relevant factors, including the best skills sets and experience for the task,” said Tlali.
The PSA concerns, however, do not end there.
Citing other problems at Sita – including the lack of adequate staffing, which has contributed to the backlog in procurement – he said the ministerial task team’s focus is suspiciously narrow.
“It is basically focusing where the money is. That is our problem – why are they not concerned about the other issues?” said Dladla.
By Dladla’s own admission, however, the PSA raised the staff shortage issue with the task team in an initial meeting in January and they acknowledged the problem.
According to the terms of reference, the task team has three months from 6 December to conduct its inquiry – with the option of a further three-month extension at the minister’s discretion.
“Considering the urgency attendant to the assignment and the impact of the delays endured by the client departments, the ministerial task team moved with speed to consult and interact with as many internal stakeholders at Sita as possible to understand the lay of the land in our supply-chain space,” said Tlali.
Sita has been rocked by board and leadership changes in recent month. In December, its CEO, Bongani Mabaso, resigned after just nine months at the helm. And last week, high court judge Julian Yende overturned Gungubele’s July 2023 decision to sack the board and replace it. The court ordered that the new board must be suspended and the old one be reinstated. The PSA said it is outraged because the replacement board was hired by the minister without the vacancies ever being advertised.
“The interference started when this new board came into being. Employees were suspended left and right without cause,” Dladla claimed. “Some are sitting at home now and drawing a salary from Sita but they have not been charged with anything. The information that we have is that these [suspended] employees are just standing in the way of people accessing whatever they want to access at Sita.”
According to Dladla, the PSA’s biggest fear is that the minister’s unilateral appointment of a new board – the same board that approved Dzengwa’s appointment as acting MD – is part of a larger scheme aimed at siphoning funds from the agency.
“We are calling on the minister to disband this ministerial task team, and we are calling on the board to reconsider its decision to appoint Mr Dzengwa as acting MD. Follow the correct procedures and advertise the post because it is vacant, but in the meantime, appoint somebody within Sita who understands the organisation’s culture,” said Dladla. – © 2024 NewsCentral Media