SIU head blames Hofmeyr for labour debacle

2012-10-11 11:33

The acting head of the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) has suggested to members of Parliament (MPs) that she had to settle a controversial labour dispute because her predecessor, Willie Hofmeyr, had acted improperly.

“The conduct of the employer was unbecoming,” Nomvula Mokhatla told Parliament’s portfolio committee on justice today.

“It was going to be a very embarrassing situation for the SIU and perhaps for the country at large.”

Mokhatla came under fire from the opposition for reinstating senior manager Miseria Nyathi, who was sacked by Hofmeyr for refusing to take a lie detector test in a probe into allegations of misconduct made against her.

It was alleged that Nyathi had penned an anonymous letter calling for Hofmeyr’s resignation, though this was never proven, and that she had committed time-sheet fraud that amounted to R70 000.

Nyathi was reinstated shortly after Hofmeyr’s departure, after more than a decade in the job, and was not only given back-pay, but a sizeable performance bonus.

The Democratic Alliance MP Dene Smuts asked why Nyathi was given back her job against the advice of the Labour Court and the advice of advocate Tim Bruinders, who represented the SIU in the case against her.

Smuts argued that the settlement – reported to come close to a million rand – might amount to irregular and wasteful expenditure, because it ran contrary to legal opinion given to the unit.

Finally, she also asked Mokhatla point-blank whether there was any truth in allegations that, in fact, the letter demanding Hofmeyr step down had been written by herself on her daughter Cora’s computer.

Mokhatla responded: “There has not been any finding that there is any letter that comes from a computer of a daughter.”

She said the allegations of fraud against Nyathi had not been proven, and added that she would not go as far as considering Bruinders’ advice a formal legal opinion, and had been within her rights to disregard both his and the Labour Court’s view.

The court ruling held that there were procedural lapses in the way the unit handled the disciplinary case against Nyathi, but that her refusal to sit a polygraph test was a breach of her contract.

ANC MP John Jeffery came to Mokhatla’s defence, pointing out that the court had merely said Nyathi could be dismissed, but did not order that it be done.

“I just think this a storm in a tea cup. Nyathi could have been dismissed, but it is a question of should she have been,” Jeffery said.

Smuts asked whether the committee could be given a copy of Bruinders’ opinion on the case, but Mokhatla demurred.

“My initial sentiments would be no, I would not want to go there,” she said, adding: “If we could just lay the matter to rest.”

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