Back on the job after being paid R3m for 4-year leave

2015-03-29 15:00

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A chief director in government – who was suspended for almost four years on full pay and cost the taxpayer more than R3?million without doing any work during that period – is now back on the job.

This follows a protracted disciplinary process that the department of labour – responsible for the country’s labour issues – this week admitted it could have handled better.

Advocate Nkahloleng Phasha, chief director of legal services in the department, sat at home for 40 months earning a monthly salary of around R82?000.

He was suspended by then labour director-general Nathi Nhleko, now the police minister.

Phasha was acquitted of internal charges he had been facing.

The disciplinary case was one of 16 against officials in the department who were suspended on full pay while disciplinary processes were under way – costing taxpayers R5.2?million a year.

Phasha said his suspension was part of a “cleansing process” and a “witch-hunt” under Nhleko.

“This is the same man who is now again firing people left, right and centre,” he said.

Phasha said it wasn’t his fault that he was suspended for so long on full pay. “I could have won on a technicality, but for me it was about the merits of the case and clearing my name. The presiding officer said in 2012 already that it looked like political infighting and the department should settle, but they did not want to.”

In reply to enquiries by DA MP Ian Ollis, the Public Service Commission said the disciplinary process was halted temporarily in July 2012 to allow arbitration in the general public service sectoral bargaining council.

The arbitrator’s recommendation was for the parties to agree on a severance package, but the department later refused to settle.

When Phasha’s attorneys highlighted shortcomings in the initial internal investigation, the parties agreed to appoint an external examiner to reinvestigate the entire matter – from scratch.

The case was postponed several times.

Phasha said the facts of his case were not properly investigated and such cases were “the easiest to fabricate”.

“Officials handling these type of cases should be trained properly and the case must be investigated properly. I went to hell and back for 40 months. I could have finished a degree in all this time. Something like this changes your whole life. What do I tell my children? What do I tell my wife? It felt as if a fraud and corruption charge would even be better,” he said.

Phasha was found not guilty of misconduct in February and the department was ordered to pay his costs.

He returned to work this month – but Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant told Parliament Phasha was still suspended.

Thobile Lamati, the new labour director-general, this week said there was not enough evidence against Phasha.

“This case was difficult from the start. Due to the sensitivity of the complaint and the fact that he was [the complainant’s] boss, we had to act so as not to create the impression that we are not protecting her,” he said. Lamati also said they were now considering deploying the complainant elsewhere in the department to make things “more comfortable”.

He said suspending employees on full pay was far from ideal.

“It is not fair that some of us wake up and get to work every morning and there are those sitting at home, earning a salary. I am looking at lifting some suspensions that have gone beyond the prescribed 60 days, but it is judged on a case-by-case basis. It is the reasonable thing to do,” he said.

Ollis noted: “Let the people at least be productive or dismiss them. The department, as the custodian of labour issues, is supposed to set the example, but it cannot even implement its own policies properly. It is absolutely outrageous to waste the taxpayers’ money like this.”

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