Former consumer commissioner vindicated by Madonsela probe

2013-04-24 14:33

Public Protector Thuli Madonsela has found that the department of trade and industry (the dti) had abused its power when it micromanaged former national consumer commissioner Mamodupi Mohlala, but blamed all parties for “not being the bigger person”.

Madonsela has cited a breakdown in communication, huge egos and an inability to cooperate as the main reasons the National Consumer Commission (NCC) has become dysfunctional.

The Public Protector today released her report following an investigation of allegations made by Mohlala that the dti had abused its power, interfered in her work and harassed her when she raised concerns about the conduct of its director-general, Lionel October.

Mohlala, whose contract was not renewed by the dti last year following the public spat, had alleged that the dti withdrew staff from the commission in retaliation for her resistance against abuse of power.

She also claimed that October and the dti had interfered in the financial management of the commission after the dti withheld crucial funding until the commission’s financial management system was in order.

Madonsela said she did not find evidence of a vendetta against Mohlala but found that the relationship between Mohlala and the dti was “frosty” from the beginning.

She said Mohlala should have been given “sufficient freedom to manage the affairs of the NCC, balanced against the responsibility to exercise such freedom within the agreed mandate, as outlined in the relevant legislation”.

“This was clearly not the case in the relationship between the NCC and the dti. My impression of the relationship between the parties was one of an overprotective parent not willing to allow an 18-year-old child to stand on his or her own feet,” said Madonsela.

The Public Protector expressed concern that there was no evidence of “mutual cooperation or good faith” at a conciliatory meeting Madonsela attended last year.

Madonsela said October had conceded that the removal of dti staff seconded to the NCC was “disruptive”. She found that it constituted “abuse of power” on October’s part.

“The conduct of the dti constitutes a violation of the commissioner’s operational independence, an unfair labour practice, an act of abuse of power and maladministration,” said Madonsela.

Both the dti and the NCC were to blame for the breakdown in relations and the manner in which the two cooperated, said Madonsela.

The Public Protector also agreed with Mohlala’s accusations that the commission could not execute its duties fully because the dti had undertaken multiple forensic investigations against the NCC.

“This meant that the NCC was unable to execute its functions properly because of being subjected to multiple investigations. While there is nothing wrong with auditing, per se, the pressure placed on the commissioner (Mohlala) does amount to abuse of power,” said Madonsela.

She also found that the dti had acted improperly when it deliberately withheld support meant for the commission.

“I specifically find that it was improper for the dti not to provide the NCC with resources for the purchasing of financial systems and advertising of the post of the chief financial officer. I accordingly hold that the dti’s conduct was improper and constitutes abuse of power,” said Madonsela.

Madonsela said it was up to Mohlala to decide what steps to take against the dti following the outcome of the probe.

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