Suspended Mpanza gets slap on wrist

2008-05-07 00:00

After six months’ suspension on full pay, a senior Msunduzi municipal official returned to work this week with a mere reprimand and redeployment to a new position at the same senior level.

Now questions are being raised about why no disciplinary hearing was held and why it took the municipality six months to make its decision.

Equally intriguing is the circular by municipal manager Rob Haswell announcing the lifting of the suspension on Skhumbuzo Mpanza, who used to be the manager in the mayor’s office.

According to the document, leaked to The Witness, Mpanza has been seconded to the post of acting process manager for entrepreneurial development and black economic empowerment, with effect from May 1.

Some who have seen Haswell’s circular describe it as a piece of fancy footwork aimed at appeasing different factions.

Mpanza, who was appointed acting municipal manager by Haswell in December, was suspended by a full council sitting on December 18 for instructing administration staff to withhold their secretarial services for the meeting and for defying a council request himself by not attending the meeting.

Haswell says that after careful perusal of the minutes of the meeting as well as correspondence and explanations submitted by Mpanza, he confirms that Mpanza’s appointment was legal.

However, he places on record that council is the highest decision-making body and has the power to revise any delegation.

Therefore, Mpanza’s instruction to the staff not to attend the meeting and his own absence, "constitutes an act of gross disobedience. No councillor or employee can defy the council".

According to Haswell, the "highly charged atmosphere and the inexplicable delay in circulating the notice of his appointment, undoubtedly placed Mr Mpanza under considerable pressure. He had been legally appointed, and it seemed to him that he was about to be illegally removed. Given that he had acted as the municipal manager previously, he was suspicious about the need for a special council meeting during the recess. He was torn between carrying on as the acting municipal manager — as expected by both the mayor and the municipal manager — and accepting being removed without any justification.

"It must also be borne in mind that our local government legislation depends on a healthy tension, but sound working relationship, among the political office bearers and the municipal manager. If this relationship is not sound, governance must suffer and, as happened in this instance, the acting municipal manager is placed in the invidious position of being condemned whatever he does. We shall all strive to ensure that this never happens again.

"In conclusion, therefore I find Mr Mpanza guilty of serious disobedience and defiance of council, and, but for the extenuating and mitigating factors, his dismissal would be appropriate. However, given his record of good service, and that nobody, myself included, emerges with credit from what happened in December 2007 to January 2008, I am issuing him with a stern, written warning and instructing him to apologise in writing to the council.

"I trust this brings an unhappy chapter to a close and that we can all move forward together."

Opposition parties are unhappy with Haswell’s actions.

The IFP said it is unacceptable that Haswell should decide on Mpanza’s fate without deferring to council. IFP caucus leader Dolo Zondi said Mpanza was suspended on a council resolution and Haswell has no right to take a decision on their behalf when they have not seen full details on any disciplinary hearing nor have they seen Mpanza’s letter of apology.

The DA said the circular does not confirm that a disciplinary hearing was in fact ever conducted, and if so, what it found as a judgment. The circular also suggests that Haswell acted alone in deciding on the issue.

DA leader Bill Lambert called on the speaker of the council to uphold the authority of the institution and require that the municipal manager report to the full council on Mpanza’s disciplinary inquiry and its findings

Haswell was out of town yesterday and could not be reached to comment.

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