Ngcobo hearing ‘must go on’

2016-04-29 13:14
Dr Ray Ngcobo.

Dr Ray Ngcobo. (Ian Carbutt, The Witness)

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Pietermaritzburg - In a surprise twist, the acting head of the Msunduzi Municipality has called for the adjournment of deputy municipal manager Dr Ray ­Ngcobo’s disciplinary inquiry.

The move, deemed “illegal” by the municipality appointed external initiator in the hearing, was made by acting municipal manager Boniwe Zulu.

It is unclear whether the disciplinary inquiry, which had been scheduled to start on Thursday and continue on Friday, has taken place, with sources in the ­municipality saying the process is kept “totally secret”.

In an e-mail letter — dated April 24 — ­written by Zulu and sent to Sanele ­Zondi, a director at law firm Mdledle Incorporated who had been appointed by the municipality as an external ­initiator in the inquiry, Zulu states that she received a letter from Ngcobo’s ­attorneys which complains of a ­“perceived lack of fairness of the ­disciplinary process and the conduct of the disciplinary hearing”.

In the letter, which was leaked to The Witness, Zulu said the issues raised in Ngcobo’s complaint are of “sufficient gravity” to “compel” her to seek the direction of the Msunduzi council.

She then instructs Zondi to “seek an adjournment of the disciplinary ­enquiry until further notice.”

After contacting Zulu for comment on Thursday, Msunduzi’s acting ­spokesperson Nqobile Madonda ­declined to respond, citing ­employer-employee confidentiality.

A day after receiving the letter, Zondi responded with his own e-mail, saying he was “hugely disappointed, shocked and alarmed” by Zulu’s actions, which he deemed unlawful.

•Unlawful interference by Zulu:

In his response — which was e-mailed to municipal speaker Babu Baijoo, ­Mayor Chris Ndlela and Zulu herself — Zondi said by law, the municipal manager does not have the “legal competence or power” to suspend disciplinary proceedings against a senior manager.

Because the disciplinary was ­instituted through a municipal council resolution, Zondi said only once the council has rescinded its resolution, or if it has been set aside by a court of law, can the inquiry be suspended.

“... it is against the rule of law, and therefore unlawful, for the acting ­municipal manager [Zulu] to suspend, or seek to suspend the disciplinary processes against Dr Ngcobo ...” Zondi wrote.

Zondi emphasised that the inquiry, which was scheduled for yesterday, ­today and a number of dates next month, would have to proceed.

•Ngcobo’s complaint:

In his letter, which was also leaked to The Witness, Zondi slammed Zulu for allegedly accepting the veracity and truthfulness of Ngcobo’s allegations without consulting with Zondi himself.

“I am at a total loss as to how she [Zulu] could possibly reach the ­conclusion that the issues raised are of that gravity, when she has not sought the version of the person [Zondi] who is representing the interests of the ­municipality at this disciplinary ­hearing,” Zondi wrote.

Zondi alleged that Ngcobo had previously raised procedural issues during the course of his disciplinary, but at that time, his attorneys followed the correct legal procedures by raising the issues at the inquiry itself so the chairperson could determine their substance.

“If the allegations made by Dr Ngcobo and/or his attorneys are of the gravity as indicated by [Zulu], this begs the question why he has not approached the Labour Court to have the disciplinary proceedings either suspended or set aside, since he [Ngcobo] is fully aware that he has such right,” Zondi wrote.

Zondi said Zulu’s instruction to him to suspend the proceedings, meant she is therefore instructing him to “flout the law consciously and knowingly.”

Zondi’s warning:

Zondi concluded his letter by warning municipal management against “establishing bad or negative precedents” that may jeopardise its ability to implement and maintain discipline in the workplace.

“Entertaining or implementing the plan of action by [Zulu] would potentially mean that every employee within Msunduzi Municipality will now have the right to raise issues of procedural fairness of disciplinary proceedings initiated against them with [the municipal] council, in which case such disciplinary proceedings will have to be suspended pending the determination of their ‘complaints’ by council” Zondi wrote.

Speaking to The Witness yesterday, Solo Mdledle, who is a co-director at Zondi’s law firm, Mdledle Incorporated, confirmed Zulu’s letter was received and that Zondi replied with the content stated in this article.

Mdledle would not comment further, saying it is a municipal issue.

Zulu and Ngcobo both declined to comment yesterday but did not question the veracity of the allegations put to them or the content of the letters.

The Witness has previously reported that Ngcobo faces two charges of gross misconduct, two charges of gross ­dishonesty and a charge of gross ­negligence. The disciplinary hearing has been ongoing for over a year.

According to the charge sheet, which was leaked to The Witness, Ngcobo is accused of ordering furniture for the city’s Tourism Hub ­“without following the municipality’s supply chain management processes”.

He also allegedly paid close to R7 million to a company, ostensibly ­contracted to provide temporary housing for the Jika Joe project, but which had not delivered on the contract.

Zulu has also been in the spotlight recently after suspended head of Msunduzi’s Internal Audit Unit, Petrus Mahlaba, named her as a subject of an investigation by his department.

An attempt had been made by Ngcobo to serve Mahlaba with the suspension notice which had been signed by Zulu.

Mahlaba is fighting his suspension in the Labour Court.

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