No Faith in Phumla Williams

2014-10-26 19:00

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Communications Minister Faith Muthambi has demoted Phumla Williams, replacing the acting director-general with a far more junior employee as part of a shake-up of the department of communications.

Government’s propaganda machine, the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS), officially ceased to exist at the beginning of this month. Its functions have been absorbed into the department of communications as per a proclamation signed by President Jacob Zuma in July.

But in a dramatic move, Muthambi sent an email to Williams – who has been acting GCIS head since Jimmy Manyi left two years ago – informing her that she was relieving her of those duties.

Several insiders in the department said Muthambi first offered the position of acting director-general to Harold Maloka – one of the deputy directors-general – but that he declined out of respect for Williams.

Maloka referred all queries to the departmental spokesperson.

Several sources within GCIS said staff were shocked when Muthambi opted for Donald Liphoko, a departmental chief director, giving him the role of acting director-general and effectively making him Williams’ boss.

Muthambi sent a curt email to Williams, thanking her for holding the fort since Manyi’s departure and informing her that she had taken the decision to replace her.

Manyi – whose time in charge was marred by controversy – is now back as adviser to Muthambi; a move some believe is designed to eventually see him return as director-general and cabinet spokesperson.

Staff members were said to be even more shocked by Muthambi’s choice of replacement, with those who have worked directly with Liphoko claiming that he would struggle with the enormous responsibility of the position.

“We couldn’t believe that she chose Donald. The man can hardly cope with his duties as it is and now she is making him acting DG,” said a senior manager in the department who asked not to be named.

Williams declined to comment when contacted.

Muthambi and Liphoko are said to have asked Williams to assist them with speaking on behalf of cabinet, but she is said to have declined, angered by the manner in which the minister has treated her since her arrival.

“She had it in for Phumla since she arrived. She was never happy with anything she did. But now they want her to stay on as cabinet spokesperson after removing her as acting director-general. She told them she would rather have her old position back,” said another official.

Liphoko said he was surprised that there were questions over his appointment. He refused to comment further. Responding through Ayanda Holo, head of stakeholder relations in the department, Muthambi defended her decision.

She said Williams would be sent to assist minister in the presidency Jeff Radebe as part of an interministerial committee tasked with repositioning Brand SA, which now falls under the department, and to continue speaking on behalf of cabinet.

“I can confirm that in good faith and for continuity purposes, I have indeed recommended the secondment of Phumla Williams to assist in the secretariat of the interministerial committee and to continue to assist Minister Radebe with his cabinet briefings.”

Holo said the decision was also influenced by the reshaping of the GCIS, which has become part of the content production and dissemination division.

Holo said that Liphoko’s “public and private sector experience” and “temperament to lead change” had led to his appointment “until a transparent process to appoint a permanent head is concluded”.

He said appointing someone below Williams’ level as acting head was permitted in terms of the Public Service Act.

“The act does prescribe or limit any official to act in a higher, or even lower, position with the proviso that the official is not negatively affected from a remuneration point of view,” he said.

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