The axed former chairman of government’s universal service agency, Usaasa, will not back down despite a legal setback this week and has vowed to continue with a court challenge against telecommunications & postal services minister Siyabonga Cwele and public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane.
Mawethu Cawe, who, along with five other Usaasa board members fired by Cwele last month following publication of a scathing report by Mkhwebane, said that although the high court in Pretoria had ruled their application to have the recommendations of the report put in abeyance was not urgent, the court will still hear the merits of the case.
The former board members who lodged the applications against Cwele and Mkhwebane are Cawe, Jabulile Nkosi, Xola Stock, Linda Cecil Nene, Tshegofatso Maloka and Lungelwa Shandu.
Cawe told TechCentral on Thursday that the fired board members’ credibility is on the line. “We also feel dutybound to clear any wrong perspectives out there. As South African citizens, we have a constitutional right to ensure our rights are not trammelled wantonly. We feel very strongly about that.”
Though the application to set aside the public protector’s recommendations were judged not urgent, Cawe said he still hopes the high court will hear the matter soon given its seriousness.
The axed board members have contended that the decision to remove them was unlawful and in violation of the constitution.
In her report, Mkhwebane ordered that Lumko Mtimde, suspended by the former board, 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.
The politically connected 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.
In court papers seen by TechCentral, the axed board members said their removal was based on an “ulterior motive”.
They said they were removed “purely because they have taken disciplinary steps” against Mtimde, who, they said, was being protected by Cwele. They accused the minister and the public protector of “a well-orchestrated plan” to remove them and “tarnish their names”.
“This is a smear campaign designed to destroy” the former board members’ reputation and reinstate Mtimde, they said in the court papers.
Cawe said previously that “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. 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.
The high court has not yet set a date to hear the applications against Cwele and Mkhwebane. “We sincerely hope that the two court processes will be expedited so that there is finality on issues surrounding Usaasa,” Cawe said. – © 2018 NewsCentral Media