Row over Gobodo probe

2011-11-19 09:57

Mamodupi Mohlala, the head of the National Consumer Commission (NCC), has challenged the appointment of forensic auditors Gobodo to conduct an investigation into allegations of poor working conditions at the agency.

The agency was set up last year to protect consumers from unscrupulous companies.

Last week, Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies appointed Gobodo to spearhead the probe after 10 NCC staff members asked to be transferred back to the trade and industry department.

The probe is likely to strain relations between Davies and Mohlala, who has accused her boss of appointing Gobodo without taking into account NCC’s input on the terms of reference that set the scope of the investigation.

This week Mohlala wrote to Davies to complain that the probe should not have gone ahead before her input, which she had intended to provide on November 7.

But on the day (a Monday) Mohlala sent her input, a team of Gobodo investigators swooped on NCC offices to interview staff members without making prior arrangement with Mohlala about the visit.

This resulted in an “unpleasant altercation” between the investigators and Mohlala, who insisted they come back the following day. The auditors have since not returned to the NCC offices.

Mohlala’s letter to Davies, dated November 14, reads: “It’s clear to me that, prior to the NCC’s inputs on the terms of reference, a decision had already been made by your office to appoint the service provider (Gobodo) and that it had already commenced with its investigations in the week ending November 4.

“This means that the NCC’s inputs on the terms of reference were of no consequence, as the investigation was already under way when the inputs from the NCC were yet to be submitted.

“This goes against the spirit of our agreement and indicates that the NCC’s inputs did not count for anything in finalising the appointment of the service provider.”

Mohlala goes on to say in the letter that she does not believe that Gobodo would be objective towards her or the NCC following the “hostile encounter” she had with the firm’s investigators on the morning of November 7.

“For this reason, and the fact that they were appointed prematurely without the NCC’s input on their terms of reference being taken into account, I’m of the view that their investigation is tainted by bias and that the outcome thereof will not be objective,” says Mohlala’s letter.

Mohlala has proposed that:
» The NCC be allowed to provide a list of employees of its choice to be interviewed by the investigators;
» She be interviewed by the investigators;
» The NCC be given a copy of the probe after it has been finalised for comment;
» Gobodo be replaced as it may not be impartial in its investigation; and
» That prior to any action being taken, a meeting be convened between the DTI and parliamentary portfolio committee to discuss the report.

“Unless I receive your written assurance that the above proposals are acceptable to you and will be implemented by close of business on November 17, I will have no option but to approach the court for urgent relief rather than wait for a report whose outcome will be highly dubious and partial,” warned Mohlala.

Following the stand-off between Mohlala and the Gobodo investigators, DTI director-general Lionel October wrote to Mohlala, saying the probe would be suspended for a week to enable the department to consider the NCC’s input on the terms of reference.

“We kindly request that you do not interfere with the investigation,” wrote October to Mohlala.

The investigation was sparked by a letter sent to Mohlala in June by the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union, which claimed that 10 of the NCC’s 71 staff members had complained about poor working conditions at the agency.

The complainants alleged they were forced to work long hours and on Saturdays had no lunch breaks, the office was overcrowded, their requests for leave weredenied and they were often bullied and threatened
by Mohlala.

But a petition signed by 66 NCC workers and sent to Davies last month rejects the claims contained in the union’s letter.

“It is further demoralising that the DTI seems to have chosen to ignore our hard work and has instead decided to pay attention to these unfounded allegations,” reads the petition.

In a statement released last week, October said the intention of the probe was to provide Davies with an independent report that would enable him to act decisively and restore the situation to normal.

“However, there is no presumption of wrongdoing,” he said.

Whatever the outcome of the investigation, Mohlala is likely to be thrust into yet another spotlight after her highly publicised spat last year with former communications minister Siphiwe Nyanda, who fired her as his department’s director-general.

When Nyanda fired Mohlala, he cited an irreparable breakdown of trust between the two of them as the reason for his decision, but Mohlala responded by taking him to court to reverse the dismissal.

The pair eventually reached an out-of-court settlement, which resulted in Mohlala being redeployed to the NCC in October last year.

Nyanda was axed by President Jacob Zuma in the aftermath of the spat.

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