Energy minister on clean-up mission at department

Cape Town - Energy Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi is on a clean-up mission at the Department of Energy, amid a period of high vacancies and allegations of irregularities.

During an energy portfolio committee meeting at Parliament on Tuesday, Kubayi confirmed the suspension of chief financial officer Yvonne Chetty and deputy director-general Ompi Aphane.

Chetty was reportedly given a precautionary suspension notice on May 19 over payments made to Empire Technology. This company “was awarded a R171m contract to develop a management system for the nuclear programme”, Mail & Guardian reported in June.

“We have suspended the CFO of the department,” Kubayi said. “This is in line with the Public Service Act. A disciplinary process has started and we hope it will be concluded soon. We are not saying she is guilty, but we are saying there are certain matters the CFO must answer to.”

Regarding Aphane, Kubayi told EE Publishers earlier in August that the head of policy, planning and clean energy was suspended regarding a number of “compliance” issues.

Kubayi confirmed this in the meeting on Tuesday. “DDG Aphane was suspended. He was given three days to respond, but he did not respond to why he should not be suspended.

“I cannot divulge the reasons for the suspension yet as we need to let the internal process to take place. We are not saying he is guilty, but we are awaiting an explanation,” Kubayi told EE Publishers earlier.

However, Gordon Mackay, the DA energy committee member said Aphane seemed to have been implicated in a storage contract relating to the department’s solar water heater programme.

While the minister has suspended these key figures, she highlighted that the department is experiences a high turnover rate, which the department aims to stem by filling these critical positions.

“In terms of vacancies, we do have high vacancies,” said Kubayi. “Three DDGs (deputy director-generals) were interviewed yesterday. We are on track with the appointments.

“I have written to all boards (the report to the Department of Energy) to advertise for their vacancies,” she said. “We started that process on July 31 and will check up on this by the end of August. We want to make sure there is a full Exco that is permanently employed."

The minister said the current structure has resulted in the department being over budget.

“We have to look at what posts to abolish as we don’t have money, so we have to take into considering the fiscal constraints,” she said. “We need to do more with less. We need to look at the structure and see who we can do away with. We will report to Parliament in third term of financial year regarding this.”

Responding to a concern raised by Mackay regarding the clean-up, Kubayi said: "We are not on a mission to purge people. I have no intention to purge people. We are here to do work, and everyone is expected to work."

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