Whistle-blower: City bosses ‘disregarded me as a human being’

2013-10-23 08:07

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The whistle-blower whose corruption allegations sparked the Manase Commission of Inquiry into the eThekwini municipality will haul city manager S’bu Sithole and his predecessor, Mike Sutcliffe, before the Labour Court this week.

Pregasen Govender (42), the city’s former deputy head of networking, electronics and communication, has subpoenaed the two, along with Mayor James Nxumalo and Sipho Kaunda, the head of the city’s standing committee on public accounts, in a bid to prove that city bosses fired him for blowing the whistle on multimillion-rand corruption.

Govender, who was fired in May 2010, wants Judge Hamilton Cele to set aside his dismissal and reinstate him to the R1.2 million-a-year post.

Govender has also subpoenaed bank official Indran Naicker to explain a mystery payment of R3.5 million the city made on April 7 2007 to an undisclosed recipient.

Govender’s lawyers will argue that this transaction will back his claims that his complaints to the city’s ombud, the Public Protector and the city’s top political and administrative leaders fell on deaf ears and ultimately cost him his job.

During the Manase process, Govender repeatedly attempted to attend council meetings and briefings to speak about corruption after being interviewed by investigators.

Govender’s evidence in chief, which kicked off the 10-day hearing, painted a picture of a city information technology department that was being used as a cash cow for consultants.

Govender claimed he had queried a double payment of R2.6 million in November 2008, a month after he was employed, with then city accountant Basil Meintjies.

His boss, Jacquie Subban, who was lashed in the Manase Report but who left the city without facing criminal charges, then called him and asked to meet at the Royal Hotel next to the city administration buildings.

There, Subban threatened him that he would be fired if he did not stop asking questions. Govender said he later went to the city’s ombud and laid complaints.

Govender said that in December 2009 he met Sutcliffe in councillor Fawzia Peer’s office where he told Sutcliffe about allegedly irregular payments by Subban and provided him with emails and other documentation backing up his claims.

Sutcliffe in response showed Govender a letter of intention to suspend him. He also “doodled” and drew “trees”.

“He was basically threatening me,” he said. “As the accounting officer, he was obliged to take action. Nothing whatsoever happened. Not a single employee was charged and payments (to Dimension Data) continued,” he said.

Thereafter, he was no longer asked to participate in key meetings and his budget function was taken over by a consultant. Subban, he said, repeatedly verbally abused him and threatened him.

In May 2010, after returning from being treated for depression, he emailed Sutcliffe, asking about progress in his complaint. Four days later, he was given notice of suspension by email. The following day he was fired.

The court heard how Govender – who has also laid complaints with Public Protector Thuli Madonsela about city corruption – recorded conversations with Sutcliffe, Subban and other city officials when he realised that he was being “set up” for blowing the whistle.

Govender also recorded a conversation with the city lawyer chairing his hearing, Vuyokazi Ngwenya, in which she allegedly warned him he was being nailed on trumped-up charges.

City advocate Joseph Nxusani objected to the recordings being used as evidence. Nxusani said the Ngwenya recording was “off the record” and could not be used in court. Cele deferred argument and a ruling, allowing their contents to be heard in the interim.

Govender told the court he had also found minutes of meetings that had been altered to make it seem that he had neglected his duties in a bid to get him fired.

Subban and Sutcliffe, he said, “disregarded me as a human being”.

“They took away my bread and butter, setting me up,” he said.

Nxusani went on the offensive against Govender, who only started receiving unemployment benefits recently because of a legal battle to get his Unemployment Insurance Fund card from the city.

Nxusani claimed Govender had provided different versions as to when he had laid a complaint with the city ombud as he had only done so after the disciplinary process against him started.

“You are lying,” he said.

Govender, a father of two from Phoenix in north Durban, denied this, saying he had subpoenaed the city officials as he wanted them to explain to the court when he had provided information and why they had failed to act.

Govender said he had gone to Sithole when he replaced Sutcliffe as “I wanted him to see the injustice that had happened”.

“Sutcliffe railroaded me out of the municipality,” he said.

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